A 17-year–old girl who was forced to drop out of school after developing a cataract which left both her eyes impaired is overjoyed that she will soon return to school after undergoing an intensive eye operation at the Sabona Eye Clinic at Frontier Hospital last week.
Lilitha Norawana said after she was diagnosed with diabetes in 2019, she noticed that her left eye was slowly losing vision. Her family had to make the difficult decision for Norawana to take a break from her studies when her situation worsened in September last year.
“There is no-one else at home but the two of us. There was no-one else I could send to the shops and I had to rush back from work because there was no one else to assist her. It was difficult for us, but today I am happy and would like to thank the doctors for their constant communication, great care, support and for giving us the help we needed,” said her father, Friday Nqayi.
Opthalmologist Dr Gcobani Tuswa said diabetes which was more common in adults, but also affected young people and was a common chronic condition that most were ignorant about. “According to statistics, diabetes is one of the causes of blindness worldwide, especially in developing countries. Surgery is currently the only cataract procedure to restore vision. It is not a long procedure, the healing and turn–around time is quick,” he said. He added that they were able to operate on one of Norawana’s eyes on Tuesday and will soon work on the other. She was among six patients who underwent serious eye operations this week.
Health MEC Nomakhosazana Meth, who was at the hospital to commemorate World Sight Day themed ‘Love Your Eyes’ on Wednesday spoke briefly with Norawana who was happy that she would be going back to school. Meth made an impromptu walkabout at the facility along, with the department’s provincial officials, hospital board members, the Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality mayor and speaker and the ANC regional secretary, while engaging with patients at the clinic.
“Frontier Hospital has been doing some serious procedures in terms of ensuring that people are given back their vision. We are here to be witnesses, to see those patients who have gone through the process,” she said.
She added: “In 2009, the World Health Organisation launched the Right to Sight initiative and demanded all countries reduce preventable vision impairment and avoidable blindness by 2020. Unoperated cataract and uncorrected refractive errors are the leading causes of vision impairment. Other causes such as age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, infectious diseases of the eye and trauma, however, cannot be ignored and need to be addressed.”
Meth indicated that the Eastern Cape draft eye care plan presented a serious supply-and-demand mismatch in the province.
“The actual number of surgeries needed is not enough to match the need. There is an unacceptably low surgical productivity. In 2008, the cataract surgical rate (CSR) in the Eastern Cape was 1 100. To address the need and tackle the prevalence the required CSR is 4 000. This means we still have a long way to go, but we are doing our best towards achieving this.”
She stated that 63.7% of cataract blind people are unaware of treatment and a total of 57.8% of the 63.7% have severe visual impairment.
“This means we have to ramp up our awareness campaigns so that people will come forward and get the medical help they desperately need instead of going blind while they can be assisted. Continuing to forge strategic partnerships to scale up the surgical productivity is of utmost importance. In order to reduce the prevalence of blindness in the province, the Eastern Cape blindness prevention partnership program has to prioritise the scaling-up of efforts to reach communities and extend eye care services,” she said.
Meth met with the Life Healthcare Group and the SA National Council for the Blind in East London last week to formalise a partnership that will benefit hundreds of people who are in need of eye care services. The department signed a memorandum of understanding with the Life St James Hospital and the SA National Council for the Blind last week Thursday to mark World Sight Day. The partnership will see 200 people having their cataracts removed to restore their vision.
“These operations will be done at our facilities which will benefit at least 200 people. When we say we are Building Better Communities Together this is what we mean because we all want a healthy Eastern Cape population,” she said.
“We are happy that we will be able to restore many people’s vision because of this partnership.”
Meth said the partnership will also assist in working towards Vision 2030 of ending avoidable vision loss.