State Eye Surgeon Dr Nicolaas Stempels from George Hospital is grinning from ear to ear at the latest equipment that was recently purchased by the Western Cape Government Health for R460 000 – a multi spot green laser. As the name suggests, the laser can treat a whole area of the retina with up to 25 points in one ‘shot’, instead of a single point ‘shot’. The laser is used for, among others, conditions such as diabetic retinopathy.
The Western Cape Health Minister, Theuns Botha, said: “I have only praise for the work that Dr Stempels performs. R38 million of the provincial health budget is spent on eye care. The Western Cape Government Health has a provincial eye care services strategy in place which aims to eliminate avoidable blindness by 2020. The strategy focuses on cataracts, refractions, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.”
Dr Stempels can now treat a patient in one session with far less pain and discomfort than was experienced previously by the older laser machine, which had been used for the past 15 years. Patients with diabetic retinopathy or retinal bleeding had laser treatment in two or more sessions, which took 30 minutes per session. Sessions were relatively painful due to the length of each session and many patients had to receive an injection in the eye to numb the pain. Patients now only need a one 10 minute session for the same results.
This advanced laser has a positive effect on service delivery since more patients can now be treated. Erica September is a diabetic with retinopathy and is a patient at George Hospital. “The pain was bearable and I am relieved that I didn’t need an injection,” said September after she had her session. She also commented on how quick the session was.
Retinopathy occurs when the oxygen flow to the retina (larger part of the eye) decreases and the retina starts to develop new blood vessels on its surface. Being fragile, they rupture and bleed inside the eye and can cause sudden loss of vision and lead to retinal detachment with often irreversible blindness as a result. Should the new vessels grow on the surface of the iris (the coloured part of the eye), they can block the drainage of fluid out of the eye and can cause pressure inside to build up to high levels fairly quickly.