According to the latest statistics released by the International Diabetes Federation, of an adult population of 33 million people, a staggering 1.8 million adults were diagnosed with diabetes in South Africa.

On Friday, 70 patients received the gift of sight, following miracle-working surgery performed by a team of renowned eye specialists at the Pretoria Eye Institute. The operations were performed as part of their Unclouding Cataracts campaign, which sees the institute, its specialists and other participating organisations doing free cataract removal surgery for 70 patients.

Says Maryke Lotz, the Pretoria Eye Institute’s marketing and communication manager: “For us at the Institute, and the many other people who help make this possible, sight is the ultimate gift that keeps on giving. Year after year, operation after operation, we are humbled by the enormous difference that this relatively small procedure makes in people’s lives”.

Lotz points out that the impact of cataracts often extends beyond the trauma of lost sight. “Small children’s motor development is delayed, people lose their jobs as a result of losing their ability to see, and solutions are delayed by a lack of medical aid and/or dwindling funds,” she explains. “The consequences of cataracts are endless, impacting not only the sufferers, but those around them, and that is one of the reasons why each individual story and the challenges behind each operation continue to inspire us on to even greater things.”

One of the patients that walked away from the experience with new sight and new hope for the future, is Marie de Beer from Villieria, Pretoria. Here is her story: “I had glaucoma in the left eye and a cataract in the other, so I had almost no vision left. What made matters worse, is that my husband has cancer and is very reliant on me for everything. Although there is nothing that can be done to restore my left eye, the cataract removal surgery on Friday has restored perfect sight in my right eye. I am extremely grateful to the whole team at the Pretoria Eye Institute. The attention and care I received from the moment of entering the premises were amazing. The nursing staff and specialists were a source of huge comfort to me. I am eternally grateful to all involved.”

Unpacking the statistics

Dr Hamza Tayob, an ophthalmologist at the Pretoria Eye Institute who performed many of the day’s surgeries, says that cataract removal accounts for about 80% of the eye operations which they perform, with cataracts being responsible for more than 50% of blindness in South Africa. Sadly, the (curative process) is lagging far behind the disease. “The cataract surgery rate (CSR) in South Africa should be at least 2 000 per million population per year for the elimination of cataract blindness,” explains Tayob. “The current rate is not even 50% of the required CSR,”

Unpacking the causes of cataracts

Cataracts are formed by the clouding of the normally transparent crystalline lens in the eye, causing blurry vision. Its causes cover a wide spectrum, including:

  • Congenital, including genetic diseases,
  • Inflammation due to eye disease
  • Intra uterine infection and ocular anomalies

Lifestyle factors such as aging, smoking and diabetes

Tayob points out that the growing prevalence of diabetes in South Africa, mainly due to poor lifestyle and diet, is a major cause of cataract development. “The increase in cataracts due to diabetes is even noted in younger patients, with sufferers often not seeing or understanding the relationship between their illness and the risk of developing cataracts,” he explains.

  • Toxins such as steroids
  • Trauma
  • UV exposure

Great gratitude amidst growing need

Lotz has great praise and gratitude for the stakeholders who have been making the cost-free proposals possible. “These surgeries would not be possible if it were not for the generous donations of all involved,” she says.

The following people and organisations were party to Friday’s successful endeavours:

The Pretoria Eye Institute who provided all the facilities and staff and did no other surgery procedures on the day. Other than Tayob, the ophthalmologists offering their free services on the day were drs Clayton Erasmus, Liezel van der Merwe, Jan Talma and Eben Laubscher.

Firms of anaesthesiologists including Drs Oberholster, Elsenbroek & Buckley Anaesthesiologists Inc., Dr. P. Barnard; and Rodseth and Partners.

Suppliers including I-Medical Ophthalmic International, Carl Zeiss, Right to Sight, K2 Medical, Medloyd, Surgical and Ophtalmic, Ophtec, Sunglass Distributors, Medis, Haylard, Priontex, Combined Medical, ISO Clear, Mylan and Bausch & Lomb.

Lotz says the Pretoria Eye Institute currently has a waiting list of 212 patients which is growing daily.

Using state-of-the art equipment and employing world-class medical professionals, the Pretoria Eye Institute is able, through early detection, to ensure optimal visual health. With their specialised health unit, the Pretoria Eye Institute treats glaucoma, cataracts and retinopathy and offers refractive surgery, as well as eye exams and vision testing for glasses and contact lenses. With a 24-hour emergency eye-care service, patients can rest assured they have the best eye care in sight.