Cataract is the leading global cause of blindness and accounts for 80 per cent of avoidable blindness in the Pacific.
What is a cataract?
Cataract is a clouding in the normally clear lens of the eye. It can affect either or both eyes. Early stages may cause no decrease in vision and the eye can look normal to an untrained person. There may be other symptoms like glare sensitivity, blurry vision, faded colours, and reading difficulties. Once mature, the eye can only distinguish light and dark.
Who suffers from it?
Cataract is associated with ageing, but not everyone who suffers from it is old. Some children are born with congenital cataracts, and early detection and treatment is critical to prevent permanent damage. As well as being hereditary, other causes of cataract include eye trauma, sunlight exposure, diabetes, genetic disorders, dehydration in children from severe diarrhoeal infection and fevers, and some medications.
Most people with severe vision loss due to cataract live in developing countries. This is particularly devastating because work, education, and family life are affected, making it hard to escape the cycle of poverty. In some cases, people die prematurely.
Treatment for cataract
Good quality eye care services are crucial for treating cataract. Well-trained non-specialists can detect people in need of cataract surgery with a simple torch light examination at their doorstep, but the surgery itself requires infrastructure, equipment, and technical skill.
Cataract is treated with a straight forward 20-minute surgery performed by an eye doctor. The cloudy lens tissue is removed and the natural lens is replaced with an implant called an intraocular lens (IOL). The person can see clearly within a few hours, and medication and care is required for a few weeks until the eye is completely healed.
It was Fred’s dream to provide low cost IOLs to the world, so he set upIOL factories in Eritrea and Nepal. The factories have produced over four million lenses and in some countries cataract surgery now costs as little as $25.
Can cataract be prevented?
Right now there’s no effective medical treatment to prevent cataract or slow its progress. The key to the prevention of blindness is improving access to quality eye care services.
Disclaimer: the content on this page is not intended to be medical advice. For medical advice, please contact your local health professional.