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«INTRODUCTION The world is entering the 21st century and our lives and health are being transformed more and more by modern technology. Many of us ...»

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The world is entering the 21st century and our lives and health are being

transformed more and more by modern technology. Many of us have access to

things that our parents could only dream about, and our grandparents couldn’t

even imagine.This technology is changing the way eye surgery is performed and all

the time this change is happening faster and faster.

Let us take a brief look backwards into history. The first clear description of eye surgery was in the code of Hammurabi, a king of ancient Babylon about 4,000 years ago.This was a set of laws which laid down the fees for eye operations and the penalties for unsuccessful ones.These could be rather severe. A surgeon could have his hand amputated for a failed operation. One wonders how any eye surgeon continued to practise.

Medical science and especially eye surgery did not advance very fast from Hammurabi’s time for thousands of years. Eye surgery 200 years ago was probably not very different from 4,000 years ago. Even then changes only occurred very slowly. One hundred years ago there might be a significant advance in eye surgery about every 20 years. Now there are significant advances every year and almost anything is becoming possible in advanced modern eye surgery.

Unfortunately some aspects of medical care have not changed in the last 4,000 years. In Hammurabi’s code it described how the fees for the treatment of a free man (ten silver pieces) differed from that for the treatment of a slave (two silver pieces). Today there is no slavery but it is still true for much of the world that the treatment, if available, depends mainly upon the patient’s ability to pay.

Modern medical treatment is unfortunately very costly. It is therefore not available nor affordable for poor people living in poor countries whose govern- ments cannot fund a comprehensive system of health care.

A study of world blindness shows some very disturbing facts. There are over 40 million blind people in the world although the exact number depends upon the definition of blindness. The accepted definition by the World Health Organisation is that a blind person is unable to count fingers at 3 metres distance with both eyes open.

By far the most common cause of this blindness is cataract, for which surgery is the only treatment. Trachoma and glaucoma are also very important causes of blindness, and surgery has a big part to play in preventing blindness from both these diseases. Perhaps the most disturbing fact of all is that the numbers of avoidably blind people in the world who need surgery still seems to be increasing.

This is happening despite all the advances in medical care and technology and the increasing numbers of doctors and medical schools throughout the world. Nearly 1 2 Eye Surgery in Hot Climates all these blind people live in the rural areas of the poor countries of the world – the so-called “developing” countries.The reason for their blindness appears to be that the doctors and medical care are found mostly in the rich developed countries or crowded into the major cities in developing countries. In this way the rural poor remain untreated.

At present in most developing countries there is much debate and discussion about the relative importance of treating or preventing disease. Most medical workers are involved in treatment rather than prevention. However, the World Health Organisation and other expert international health agencies consider the prevention of disease should have priority over treatment. It is seen as a more effective and cheaper way of promoting health in the community, and has more chance of helping the poor.

As far as eye disease is concerned the debate is slightly different. All authorities agree that the basic aim in providing eye care is to prevent unnecessary blindness.

This may require public health measures or medical or surgical treatment. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified four major causes of blindness and visual handicap world-wide which should be easily preventable.It has also identified three other important causes which are preventable but not so easily.

These are:

–  –  –

At present surgery is the only treatment for cataract and it is often the most appropriate treatment for glaucoma. It plays an important part in the prevention of blindness from trachoma. Therefore any plan to prevent unnecessary blindness must make basic low-cost surgical treatment available to all those who need it.

This book is written to describe appropriate surgical treatment to tackle this huge problem of avoidable blindness. It is about surgery in particular, and is written as a companion to “Eye Disease in Hot Climates” which is about eye disease in general. In this opening chapter some of the basic problems in trying to provide surgical services will be discussed. The rest of the book is about surgical principles and techniques.

–  –  –

Cataract There is now plenty of evidence that cataract occurs at a younger age and is more common in hot climates and where hygiene is poor.The exact cause of this is not known for sure and there may be several causes. However episodes of severe dehydration in earlier life from previous gastro-enteritis, heat-stroke or fevers may increase the risk of cataract formation in later life. Life-time exposure to bright sunlight or high temperatures may also be factors. It therefore seems that poor people are more likely to go blind from cataract than rich people, and yet paradoxically the rich have a much better chance of getting treatment.

Trachoma occurs most severely in hot, unhygienic surroundings where flies, poor living standards and lack of water allow the passage of infection from person to person.

Glaucoma does not appear to be influenced by the environment, however certain ethnic groups have an increased risk of certain types of glaucoma. Open angle glaucoma is more prevalent and serious in blacks, and angle closure glaucoma is much more prevalent in mongoloid races.

Pterygium is probably caused by excessive exposure to ultra violet rays from the sun. It is a very common disease in hot climates but is of little significance elsewhere. It is more prevalent in rural areas where people live and work outdoors.

Corneal scarring is a much more significant cause of blindness in poor countries and hot climates where the cornea is more exposed to trauma, infections and solar radiation. Malnutrition, especially vitamin A deficiency, also increases the risk of corneal scarring.

Consanguinity (marrying a close relative) may be common in certain communities, and may cause an increase of some surgically treatable conditions such as congenital cataract.

Infectious diseases can lead to blindness. Rubella in pregnancy can cause cataracts, and measles in childhood can lead to corneal ulceration and scarring. Both rubella and measles are easily prevented by immunisation, but some developing countries still have very poor immunisation rates.

How can appropriate surgical treatment be provided for those who need it?

This is a much more complex question and obviously no two countries are the same. In some countries there may be a desperate shortage of hospitals and specialist care, while in others the shortage of care may be only in rural areas. Often isolation or difficulty in travel may prevent people having access to medical treatment.

By far the biggest challenge for eye surgery is to make cataract surgery available throughout the world. The initials of the word “cataract” make eight convenient headings to describe eight principles for providing basic surgical treatment for all those who need it.

4 Eye Surgery in Hot Climates

–  –  –

1. Commitment. In spite of all the advances in modern medical care, the number of blind people requiring surgical treatment is still increasing. What technically should be an easy problem to solve is in fact very difficult. Commitment and dedication is needed and major difficulties and problems must be identified.

Many of these difficulties are in the community. Most of the cataract blindness in the world is found in areas of poverty.There is not just a shortage of money but poverty of education, and community development as well.

However some of the difficulties come from the attitudes and limitations of those in authority. Governments, especially military governments, may not give a large share of the budget to health and education, and even then a health ministry may give cataract surgery a low priority when there are so many other health problems. Even those of us who are eye surgeons often find it hard to respond to the challenge of making basic surgical treatment available to all members of the community.

Most experts in world blindness prevention consider that it should be possible to solve the problem of treatable and preventable blindness even with the resources which are available.To this end the WHO and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) have launched the plan called “Vision 2020 the right to sight”. 20/20 represents normal visual acuity recorded by the Snellen’s method and measured in feet.(In fact it is usually measured in metres and recorded as 6/6).The hope is that by the year 2020 most of the avoidable blindness in the world should be eradicated, so that everyone in the world except those with untreatable and unavoidable disease should have a visual acuity of 20/20 by the year 2020. The surgical treatment of cataract blindness is one of the main aims of Vision 20/20.

A commitment to this plan and this ideal is obviously the first and most essential step in achieving it. Any commitment has two basic parts. Firstly, awareness of the problem and secondly, action to try to solve it. Most people involved in eye care are aware of the problem but unfortunately it is much harder to solve.

The need for commitment is shown by some statistics from India. In 1981 there were about half a million cataract operations performed in India. By 1999 this number had increased by about six times to 3 million.This obviously demonstrates a very great commitment to eye care and the community. In spite of such a Introduction 5 dramatic increase in surgery the numbers of blind people with cataract in India has apparently not yet fallen.The reasons for this are uncertain.One probable reason is that cataract is a disease of old age, and with people living longer the prevalence of cataract in the community is increasing. Another possible reason is that much of the increased cataract surgery is due to increased demand. Because the results of surgery are now so much better, many patients with early cataracts or with cataracts in only one eye are wanting treatment to improve their quality of life even though they have not gone blind.

It is hoped that some of the ideas in the rest of this chapter may encourage people to take appropriate action.

2. Appropriate. The treatment given and the technology used must be appropriate for the needs and resources of the community.

The equipment used in medical care and especially in ophthalmology is becoming increasingly sophisticated. Phakoemulsification is now the standard treatment for cataract in the developed world and there are many different lasers and vitrectomy machines which can do much in the treatment of eye disease. Nearly all this technology has been developed by research in rich countries. It is expensive and the equipment needs servicing and maintenance.

Many different groups of people want to make this advanced technology available in developing countries as well :All good doctors like to be up-to-date with the most modern techniques. It gives them professional satisfaction and benefits their patients as well.

2. The influential middle classes and the rich like to have every possible treatment available in their own country, so they don’t have to travel abroad for it.

3. Governments feel a sense of pride if their country has the most modern facilities for medical treatment.

4. The organisations that manufacture and market high technology medical equipment are very anxious to sell it, and provide incentives and pressures to do so.

5. In private medical practice there is competition and commercial pressure to have the most modern equipment.

It is difficult for any conscientious and enthusiastic doctor working in a poor country to maintain a balanced view about expensive modern technology. It is difficult to balance enthusiasm for scientific excellence with a concern to provide effective treatment for as many patients as possible. The priority for high technology is to get an excellent result regardless of the cost, however small the number of patients treated or the longer time taken. The priority in treating the poor and needy is to be cost-effective and have a surgical department which can deal with large numbers of patients. Somebody has to pay for the treatment whether it is the government, a charity or the patients themselves or their relatives. The patients themselves usually cannot afford much, nor can governments, and charitable organisations are very concerned about cost-effectiveness with their donors in mind.

6 Eye Surgery in Hot Climates Nowadays, even rich countries are discovering that modern medical care is very costly, and there has to be a cash limit as to how much a country can afford to pay for its health care. If this is true for rich countries it is even more true for poorer ones. If a poor country invests in expensive sophisticated medical technology it means that resources have to be taken from possibly more important health needs in order to pay for it. Unfortunately, many hospitals in developing countries contain pieces of sophisticated, expensive equipment which are not being used.

The usual reason is that they have broken down and cannot be repaired, or sometimes one small part is defective or missing.

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