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Eye Care Awareness Week (ECAW) is the period when all hospitals with facilities for cataract surgery are asked to perform as many cataract surgeries on indigent patients as possible, to help to decrease the burden of blindness from cataract in line with the VISION2020 project (which aims to eradicate cataract blindness by the year 2020). To this end, the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), together with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health, has responded by annually performing large numbers of extra cataract surgeries during this week among people who might normally have difficulty accessing these procedures.

Hospitals serviced by UKZNís Department of Ophthalmology include Addington, St Aidanís, Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital (IALCH), and Pietermaritzburg Hospital Complex (Greys and Edendale Hospital). Although a full range of quaternary care is provided, the Department is known for its special expertise in vitreoretinal surgery, paediatric ophthalmology and the management of the ocular complications of HIV/AIDS.

For ECAW in 2009 the team from UKZN had planned to undertake cataract surgery on 250 patients at three hospitals in Durban. Addington and St Aidanís Hospitals each had 120 patients booked and another 10 operations were expected at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital. The Vodacom Foundation generously agreed to sponsor the consumables and disposables necessary for the 250 cataract surgeries at a cost of R384 000. These materials were purchased through the Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness from various distributors and delivered to the Department of Ophthalmology, which distributed the supplies to the hospitals involved.

Surgeries at both Addington and St Aidanís Hospitals went extremely well. At Addington, 89 procedures were performed during the week and 108 procedures were done at St Aidanís. Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital performed 10 surgeries as planned. The total number of surgeries performed during ECAW was therefore 207. In the following week the team performed a further 58 procedures at St Aidanís and Addington Hospitals. Altogether, a staggering 256 cataract procedures were performed in Durbanís public hospitals, exceeding the planned number of 250 patients. Most of the consumables and disposables supplied with the support of the Vodacom Foundation were utilised during this two-week period. Remaining supplies have been used during subsequent regular extracapsular cataract procedures.

With more than 250 patients benefiting from cataract removal and intraocular lenses implants, the initiative was an enormous success. This would not have been possible in such large numbers without the generous support of the Vodacom Foundation.

Article based on information provided by Dr Linda Visser.

For further information about community programmes of the Department of Ophthalmology, kindly contact Dr Linda Visser by email at visser@ukzn.ac.za.