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February 10, 2020

From commute to follow-up, Prevention of Blindness Trust spares eye patients from spending money

Karachi

February 10, 2020

Around 300 people from across Karachi underwent free cataract surgeries on Sunday at an eye hospital in Gulistan-e-Jauhar Block 12 managed by the Prevention of Blindness Trust (POB).

These mass surgical procedures are routinely carried out at the facility on the second Sunday of every month. The POB Trust not only treats cataract patients free of charge but also arranges transportation facilities for them across the city. The patients are brought to the facility by buses and later dropped back.

This Sunday the facility had arranged a ceremony to brief the media about its future plans. They had also invited cricketer Moin Khan on the occasion.

At around 12 noon, over 100 patients with their attendants could be seen waiting for their turn on chairs outside the building. As the facility could not accommodate so many patients inside at the same time, new patients could enter inside only when some others had undergone surgeries.

A young man, Muhammad Ali, had come from Mehmoodabad to accompany his grandfather with the cataract problem. He said his father had also availed the facility earlier, and now his grandfather had come there to get his cataract treated.

Another man, who appeared to be in his 50s, could not properly speak Urdu. He said he had come from Kalakot with his father who would undergo the cataract surgery. A large number of women were also there for their eye treatment.

Self-respect

POB Trust Media Manager Shariq Jafri told the media that only around five minutes are required to perform one surgery, which laypersons call laser surgery. He said the trust has established 45 screening camps in various areas of the city.

On the first Sunday of every month people can have their eye tests at the screening camps. Those who are diagnosed with cataract are then advised to come to the main facility on the next Sunday, for which the trust arranges transport itself and through volunteers. Those who are diagnosed with other diseases, which require complex procedures, are advised to come to the facility some other day and are also treated free of charge.

POB Trust Chairman Dr Misbahul Aziz explained that a total of four surgeons perform cataract surgeries at the hospital two at a time on the second Sunday of every month. He explained that the entire treatment at the facility is free, which includes follow-up visits and medicines.

Dr Aziz said that a large number of people from affluent families also visited the eye hospital for consultation and treatment. He added that they and others who wanted to pay for their treatment and consultation were asked to pay the amount in donations. “We do not ask people if they could pay or not because we do not want to hurt the self-respect of our patients.”

He maintained that many other welfare organisations had been offering free cataract surgeries in the city, but outside government facilities like the Civil and Jinnah hospitals, the POB hospital was the only facility in the city where other complicated procedures such as retina surgery and corneal transplants were also performed without any charges.

Generally, there is an impression that the facilities that offer free treatment are not able to maintain high standards, said Dr Shayan Shadmani, a surgeon who volunteers at the POB hospital. However, he remarked that facilities like the SIUT and the Indus Hospital had negated such impressions, as they offered free treatment while maintaining high standards, and the POB hospital was also a similar facility.

He claimed that once a team from the Aga Khan University Hospital visited them and remarked that they could not find any point to criticise their mode of treatment and environment.

Cataract trends

When asked why the cases of cataract had been rising, Dr Shadmani said there were various factors that caused cataract, such as eating patterns, stress and the use of gadgets. He added that earlier, the disease was linked with old age, but now 25 per cent of their patients were in the age group of 30 to 40 years.

To this Dr Aziz added that advancement in surgical methods had also resulted in many people going through such surgeries at an early age. He explained that earlier, when such surgeries used to be complex, patients of cataract were advised to wait until they could not see at all. Now, as the surgical procedure has become cheap and easy, even those in the initial stages of the disease are advised to undergo the surgery, he said.

Regarding corneal transplants, Dr Aziz said they had been receiving some corneas from the United States. He stressed the need for creating awareness about organ donation, saying that if the people of Pakistan donated corneas, they would not need help from abroad.

He added that often it was also the case that relatives of the persons who had declared to donate organs after their deaths did not allow to carry out their will.

Past and future

Dr Aziz said the trust was founded in 2007. Initially, the POB teams offered services at other health facilities and rented places. Later, the trust managed to acquire its own land and constructed the hospital.

In 2015 the facility performed around 3,000 surgeries, which increased to 12,000 in the fiscal year 2017-18. Dr Shadmani said that during the current fiscal year, which would end in June, they had targeted to perform 18,000 surgeries.

Now the trust plans to extend its operations in other parts of Sindh. It has also started to form its satellite centres in all the districts of the city that would offer primary health care services to eye patients, such as OPD and cataract surgeries. The first of such centres will start in Dhoraji by March.