ZIMBABWE is failing to clear an eye cataract surgery backlog which stands at 60 000, due to a critical shortage of resources and medical personnel, a senior health official has said.
By Our Correspondent
Gwanda District Medical Officer (DMO), Netsai Changata said eye conditions or diseases were currently among the top five causes for hospital outpatient departments visits in the country.
“The World Health Organisation [WHO] estimates indicates that there are 125 000 people with blindness in the country of which 62 500 are blind as a result of cataracts. Zimbabwe is estimated to have an annual cataract surgery backlog of 60 000,” said Changata in a speech read on her behalf by Mangwe DMO, Nobert Singine.
The revelations were made during the World Sight Day commemorations held last week in Plumtree.
“This backlog is attributed to lack of cataract surgical equipment, consumables and inadequate qualified person in the rural provinces coupled with high cost of cataract surgery in the private sector,” she said.
Changata said the country needed to conduct at least 30 000 cataract surgeries per year to clear the backlog and cater for the incidences by 2020. Last year alone, a total of 7 395 cataract surgeries were reported. The official said major eye conditions included refractive errors, conjunctivitis, cataract, trauma and glaucoma.
“With an old person population of 4,7% in 2012 and projected to increase, the number of people developing blindness and visual impairment in Zimbabwe is expected to increase as is the situation in most countries,” said Changata.
She said an estimated 8 000 children below 15 years in Zimbabwe have childhood blindness caused by congenital cataracts and glaucoma, eye trauma, measles and cancer of the eye.
Changata said 80% of all visual impairment could be avoided or cured if patients get timely medical assistance.
The Gwanda DMO said the Ministry of Health and Child Care was experiencing challenges in its effort to provide comprehensive and quality eye health care services.
“We have limited resources and inadequate eye specialists, particularly in the rural areas where the majority of the population resides, eye health equipment and consumables such as medicines,” she said. “The problem is compounded by the country’s lack of capacity to manufacture the medicines and intraocular lenses as these have to be imported.”
Elderly people were found to be the worst affected, as they cannot afford eye health services due to lack of income.
Changata challenged government to re-look at the Constitution, in view of ensuring that it caters for the old people’s health challenges.
“There is need to revisit the Zimbabwe Constitution focussing on the issue of older persons accessing health and other social services in an effort to ensure that proper care including safety nets are imbedded in the Constitution for the protection of the older person,” she said.