Left: Untreated cataracts lead to severe visual impairment and blindness.
Right: A 5 minute procedure can restore a patient’s sight.
By 2020, the number of blind people in India will be close to the population of Manhattan. Almost 2/3rds of them will be blind from a condition that can be treated in 5 minutes at a cost of $50 — cataract.
“What affects 20 million people, robs the global economy of billions of dollars and can be fixed with a five-minute procedure? The answer is cataract blindness.”
Article by Christine Harvey, published January 2016
Since 2012, HelpMeSee has supported almost 250,000 sight-restoring cataract procedures. The vast majority of these were in India, where the government cites cataract as the single largest cause of car accidents, even ahead of alcohol.
Today, estimates for the number of Indians blind from untreated cataract begin at 5 million people.
Source: National Programme for Control of Blindness, Government of India
Communities of Sight: Our First Five
On 26 January 2016, India celebrated her 67th Republic Day. On this occasion, government officials declared two districts — Banda and Hamirpur — in Uttar Pradesh ‘cataract backlog free,’ meaning that all patients affected by cataract blindness in that district received sight-restoring care. The effort required extensive outreach within the local areas by hundreds of health workers recruited from within their communities.
Sitarani received cataract surgery in 2015 at HelpMeSee’s partner hospital in Chitrakoot, India. After surgery she was able to return to work in her local store.
In Banda, which has a population of 1.9 million people, our local partner hospital and surgeons conducted a total of 22,879 surgeries with the support of 942 female community workers. The effort began in June 2014.
In Hamirpur, home to almost 1.2 million people, our partners conducted a total of 11,871 sight-restoring procedures. 588 health workers — all women — led a yearlong effort to identify patients in need of cataract surgery and connect them to care.
HelpMeSee worked closely with local surgeons, community mobilizers, nurses and hospital staff — many based at our partner hospital Sadguru Netra Chikitsalaya in Chitrakoot, India. Medical teams used both the HelpMeSee Reach app for patient outreach and our cloud-based surgical reporting system to capture essential information on patient health and outcomes.
A community mobilizer interviews a patient with HelpMeSee’s Reach app near Chitrakoot, India.
With the success of Banda and Hamirpur, HelpMeSee and its partners reached a total of five total districts and established our first five Communities of Sight.
“These districts are among the first in India where all those affected by cataract blindness received care,” said Jacob Mohan Thazhathu, President and CEO of HelpMeSee. “They stand as an example for the rest of India and for countries worldwide that remain affected by this public health crisis.”
Looking Ahead: New Partnerships
In February 2016, we launched the next phase of our partnerships to expand within India. HelpMeSee and the Lions Health Foundation Alibag, India launched a partnership
to end cataract blindness in India’s second most populous state, Maharashtra. The partnership focuses on training in Manual Small Incision Cataract Surgery (MSICS) and the use of surgical quality assurance systems. Lions Health Foundation Alibag has begun planning construction for a new hospital in Raigad District, the initial focus area for the joint campaign to restore sight to thousands in the region.
“Our problem today is cataract,” said Ashok Mehta, former President of the International Association of Lions Clubs.
“We’ve been working for the past 25 years, but we have not been able to solve the problem. I am sure with the help of HelpMeSee we’ll be able to see the light of day and bring vision to thousands of people who are needy and deserving.”
A leader of the Lions Health Foundation Alibag, based near Mumbai, India, speaks during the partnership launch with HelpMeSee in February 2016.