Cataract Surgery Marathon Helps Restore Sight in Eden and Central Karoo

Following last year’s successful cataract marathon, George Hospital’s Ophthalmology team is on the move again to treat patients living in the Eden and Central Karoo. The team, consisting of an ophthalmologists (eye surgeon) and nurses, will travel to outlying hospitals across the districts to treat patients in need of cataract surgeries.  

Dr Klaas Stempels and Sister Rochelle Isaacs conducting cataract surgery on Ms Irene Lottering in George.

A cataract is the clouding of the lens of the eye which obstructs the passage of light. Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in South Africa (over 50%) and for most patients it can be reversed through a relatively simple operation which takes less than 30 minutes and provides a complete restoration of sight. 

The team has already been to Beaufort West, Knysna, Uniondale and Ladismith in the first four weeks of the marathon, and last week, as part of World Sight Day, they operated at George Hospital.  World Sight Day, held on 11 October this year, is an annual global awareness day focusing on blindness, visual impairment and the rehabilitation of the visually impaired. 

During the first five weeks of the cataract surgery marathon, the team treated 267 patients and plan to operate on a further 180 patients in Mossel Bay, Oudsthoorn and Riversdale over the next three weeks.  

Ms Irene Lottering (62) spoke to George Hospital’s CEO, Mr Michael Vonk, shortly after her operation last week. Last year Ms Lottering had her left eye operated on during the marathon, and a year later to the day, on 12 October 2012, the other eye was treated. She explained that the first operation had made such a positive impact on her life, because before the operation she wasn’t able to recognise people or read her Bible herself. All of that has now changed.  

The cataract surgery marathon required extensive planning by the team. All the specialist equipment, including the operating theatre instruments and consumables used during the operations, are transported by members of the team. 

Some of the patients in Ladismith were anxious and didn’t know what to expect, because it was the first time that the team visited their town to conduct the procedure. After a successful visit, Dr Klaas Stempels, specialist ophthalmologist and eye surgeon, expects that they will return to Ladismith next year.   

Western Cape Health Minister, Theuns Botha, says “R38 million of the provincial health budget is spent on eye care. Cataract surgeries cost the province R17.4 million.” 

Cataract patients are screened at primary health care facilities, and then referred to the following hospitals:

  • Eerste River Hospital is the high volume cataract surgery centre for the Western Cape. They average 2600 cataract surgeries per year.
  • Groote Schuur and Tygerberg Hospitals are mainly teaching hospitals with a research component – 1000 surgeries per year.
  • Victoria and Helderberg Hospital – 300 surgeries per year.
  • Red Cross Children’s Hospital – 60 surgeries per year.
  • George and Beaufort West Hospitals – 650 surgeries per year
  • Worcester hospital  – 600 surgeries per year
  • Paarl and Eersteriver Hospitals – 200 surgeries per year 

“Screening and refractions cost R15 million and the province issues R5.6 million worth of spectacles.” 

The cataract surgery marathon initiative would not be possible without the support of various community organisations, in particular the Lions and Rotary Club, who helped sponsor the cost of the operations. A few local ophthalmologists in private practice also volunteered their time for the worthy cause. 

The marathon forms part of Western Cape Government’s plan towards VISION 2020, the global initiative to eliminate preventable blindness by the year 2020, a joint programme of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB).

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