The socioeconomic effect of curing cataracts

The World Health Organization states that around 2.2 billion people worldwide suffer from some type of visual impairment. Nearly 100 million of those people have vision loss or blindness due to cataracts. 90% of all blindness occurs in developing nations, where in some cases cataract accounts for more than half of blindness.

The socioeconomic effect of cataract surgery is significant. Curing someone of cataracts can allow them to increase their economic productivity and support themselves and their families. A study has shown that economic productivity can increase by up to 1,500% of the cost of surgery during the first postoperative year. Conversely, when cataracts are left untreated, it inevitably leads to the loss of employment opportunities and a swift fall into extreme poverty.

A study based in a Ghanaian village showed that three years post-surgery 82% of patients who had been cured of blindness reported that their ability to work was improved. The study also states that on average, the number of hours worked by patients increased by up to 121% following cataract surgery to cure blindness. Two of the patients from the study also reported that post-operatively they were able to work on a farm for more than 40 hours per week.

Investing in the cure of needless blindness in the low-income and isolated communities of the developing world also contributes to their economic development by decreasing dependency. Studies show that 75% of visually impaired people in developing countries require assistance with everyday tasks and need to be led by sighted children or sighted adults. This in turn disenfranchises other family members from education or work. Curing someone of blindness, therefore, has a ‘ripple effect’ of economically empowering those around them too.

Co-founder of the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation, Dr Sanduk Ruit has also created sustainable methods to produce intraocular lenses for surgery. He organised a factory to produce lenses in Kathmandu, Nepal. The factory lowered the cost of lenses from $200 to just $4. This then resulted in Nepal having access to a sustainable eyecare model.

Whilst many studies have shown that socioeconomic activity has improved, real-life examples have borne out the same results. The Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation has visited many villages and communities across Nepal. One patient of the NGO, Murathi Parsi, was cured in Lumbini during an outreach microsurgical eye camp. Now that Murathi has been cured, she is no longer dependent on her family members and is able to make contributions to her family.

Another patient that has shown socioeconomic improvements is Shri Mani Rai. This patient lived in the Himalayan outback with the closest eye hospital being over 15 hours away. Shri Mani did not have the financial means or any other support to reach the hospital. After discussing how she lived her days in darkness, Shri Mani explained that her granddaughter and daughter tended to her full time. This meant that no member of the family was employed.

Shri Mani had her cataracts cured by the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation team in Solukhumbu, Nepal. Following her surgery, she makes regular contributions to her community by harvesting and selling vegetables at her village market. Having her sight restored also means both her daughter and granddaughter have been able to return to looking after their farm. This change occurred within just one year following her treatment.

Stories such as these prove that socioeconomic status and position improve significantly following intervention to cure cataract blindness. Poverty is both a cause and a consequence of deteriorating eye health. Removing the issues faced by individuals suffering from sight loss can positively impact and increase economic opportunities to lessen the economic burden.

This can be achieved by the promotion of accessibility to eye care services and putting preventative measures, such as training doctors, in place to assist in the reduction of poverty, leading to an increase in economic opportunities and employment.

Yet there remains a huge intra-country inequality when it comes to access to high-quality eye care prevention, treatments, and cures. Cataract surgery, specifically intraocular lens transplants, is already one of the most used procedures across the world. It is predicted that each year around 4 million cataract surgeries take place. Yet this is a tiny proportion of the nearly 100 million cases that exist worldwide, with most treatment taking place in the West.

The first of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is to eliminate extreme poverty in all forms everywhere. Investment in the cure of cataracts is one of the most cost-effective solutions to combating extreme poverty in low-income and developing nations.

Grassroots interventions, such as the ones made by the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation, can tackle both the eye health crisis as well as combat extreme poverty. Creating sustainable infrastructure, especially in eyecare, can create a system of prosperity for the future too.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by The Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation .

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