Help needed with hospital’s cataract service

An eye with a clear lens versus an eye with an opaque lens.

The False Bay Hospital is at risk of no longer being able to provide life-changing cataract operations due to an ageing phaco machine which is used during surgery.

The False Bay Hospital Association, a registered fund-raising organisation, is currently busy raising funds for a new phaco machine. It has previously raised funds for the hospital’s borehole, an ultrasound machine and a defibrillator among other services it assists the hospital with.

Des Read, chairman of the association, said the cost of a new phaco machine is R562 000 and it could take some time to raise the money.

The manager for medical services at False Bay Hospital, Dr Wendy Waddington, said the current phaco machine is old but functional but they expect it to be obsolete within the next six months.

Since 2015, the hospital has performed 250 cataract operations a year with the assistance of staff from Eerste River Hospital.

A cataract is the clouding of the eye’s natural lens, which lies behind the iris and the pupil. Cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss in people over age 40 and is the principal cause of blindness in the world.

The Eerste River Hospital Eye Clinic, based in Eerste River, had significant success in reducing blindness in the Western Cape and performed 2 496 cataract operations in 2014. However, the facility was difficult to reach by public transport and is about 33 kilometres from Fish Hoek, which made it difficult for far south patients to use.

Operations were also done at Victoria Hospital but moved to False Bay Hospital in 2015 in an attempt to increase operations to 500 a year.

Cataract patients are screened at Victoria Hospital and surgery, under local anaesthetic, is done at False Bay Hospital.

Dr Waddington said 80% of visual impairment is either preventable or curable and a population-based study conducted in Cape Town in 2012 showed that 1.4% of the population was blind, 0.9% had severe visual impairments and 4.9% had visual impairments.

“If we targeted cataract and refraction errors comprehensively, we could reduce preventable blindness significantly,” she said.

Fish Hoek resident, Elme Thorpe, 77, said she had good vision before developing cataracts and didn’t even need reading glasses.

However, after developing cataracts, her life changed dramatically and everyday tasks such as watching TV, making a cup of tea and reading became very difficult.

As she could not afford private surgery which costs around
R30 000 she was placed on a waiting list at False Bay Hospital.

During that period, her vision deteriorated and she could not see paintings on her wall and would bump into furniture in her house which resulted into regular falls. She could not go out by herself anymore and said she could only see cars while crossing the road once they were “right in front of her”.

This all changed for Ms Thorpe in August after she had one cataract removed. It is standard procedure to have one cataract removed at a time.

“My vision in my right eye is crystal clear and it has made such a difference in my life,” she said.

She describes herself as fit and healthy and said the operation has given her her independence back. She is due to have the cataract in her left eye removed next year.

For more information about the fund-raising project or if you are able to assist, call Mr Read at 076 765 3364.