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Stanford University School of Medicine

A “cure” for blindness? Treat poverty & improve access to care

7544454642_87449e1e24_bCataracts -- a clouding of the lens -- are the top cause of blindness worldwide. In the U.S., they can be removed in an outpatient procedure. But in developing nations, their successful treatment is confounded by many factors, including a simple lack of doctors, as Stanford medical student Karen Hong explains in a recent column in the Huffington Post.

It's tricky to get patients in to see even the few doctors that are practicing in nations like Rwanda, she writes. With poor infrastructure, a trip to a major city is challenging for rural residents, who may also lack knowledge about where to get care. Money too is a barrier. For cataract sufferers who struggle to pay for daily necessities, surgery may be out of the question. There is also "cultural and societal wariness about treatment" in some areas, Hong points out.

What can be done? She writes:

Public health initiatives have come up with innovative solutions to these problems. Mobile surgical camps have increased the spread of eye health in countries with poor access to care.

The Aravind Eye Hospital chain in India has created groundbreaking low-cost cataract equipment to offer sustainable treatment. The Himalayan Cataract Project, started by Dr Sanduk Ruit [MD] in Nepal, has spread to over six other countries due to its commitment to training doctors from developing countries. One way Dr. Ruit overcomes the stigma of treatment is to show the surgical process on a television screen in the waiting area so patients can see the process from start to successful end result.

These programs show progress is possible. But it will take a change in international priorities -- and a focus on the underlying barriers to care -- to really "cure" blindness, Hong writes.

Previously: A quest to cure the world's blind and Long-distance eye-brain connections, partial vision restored for first time ever in a mammal
Photo courtesy of National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health

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