By: Bronwen Roberts
Dr Jeremy Joseph volunteered to perform cataract surgery on patients in Zimbabwe in 1995, and participated in his first expedition for SEE International (Surgical Eye Expeditions). This London-based ophthalmologist knew to expect hundreds of patients prematurely blinded by cataracts; their condition compounded by poor facilities and lack of medication.
What he had not anticipated was the powerful impact this experience would have on his own life. “My work with SEE International is challenging and inspiring; very much a two-way process,” says Dr Joseph. “I have gained just as much from my experience as I have given back. Many of the cases are not ordinary cataracts. Patients are often young with traumatic cataracts, or they are old with complex cataracts. I’ve had to learn to operate in less than ideal circumstances, where the water or electricity supply or both can stop at any time. But I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the world’s most dedicated ophthalmologists, and the experience has been one of personal growth and confidence for me”.
This seems to be an ongoing learning process. At the end of a follow-up Eye Camp in Namibia, where Dr Joseph and his colleagues operated on more than 125 patients, they walked into a local hall where the patients had gathered to say goodbye. “Every patient, who had previously been brought in blind, and who could now see, came forward and in turn clasped each surgeon’s hand in thanks. The room spilled over with emotion,” says Dr Joseph.
Cataract-induced blindness in this part of the world robs the individual of the ability to work and earn a living, and the social and economic consequences of blindness, are staggering. Dr Joseph expands, “Our work isn’t just about giving people back their sight; we are helping them get their lives back.”
Since that first expedition, Dr Joseph has participated in nine more. He is one of hundreds of ophthalmologists from around the globe, that have teamed up with SEE International to devote their time and energy to fight cataract induced blindness, and other eye diseases in the developing world.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cataracts account for about half of the world’s preventable blindness and bilateral cataracts (cataracts in both eyes) currently blind at least 20 million people. Harry Brown, a Californian ophthalmologist, launched SEE International in the early 1970s with a group of trained ophthalmic surgeons, nurses, and technicians from around the world.
Dr Brown’s aim was to transform languishing lives into productive ones. Now that this dream has reached fruition, thousands of blind people in more than 40 countries including the Philippines, Mexico, Peru, Thailand, Kenya, Ecuador, and Malawi are successfully treated. More than 600 volunteer ophthalmologists offer their services each year. Despite the help dispensed to many patients; there are still some who are not receiving treatment due to the fact that SEE International can only operate in one location for a limited period of time.
Often, other problems such as glaucoma, corneal blindness, or retinal diseases remain untreated due to limited resources. Because they recognize that their high volume of cases represent only a tiny fraction of the curable or preventable cases of blindness in developing countries, SEE International fund a separate education programme for ophthalmologists in Third World countries. The Eye Camp programmes team up with a host ophthalmologist, to provide some training if it is required, and to help provide equipment, such as microscopes and autoclaves (used for sterilising surgical instruments). Repeat visits are made to the same country to maintain the projects’ momentum.
Jeremy Joseph is a consultant ophthalmologist at The Cosmetic & Ophthalmic Eye Surgery Centre www.osc-centre.com (COS) which are supported by ophthalmic surgeons (specialist ophthalmic consultants referred to as eye surgeons), cosmetic and cataract surgeons as well as eye specialists from some of London’s leading hospitals. Dr Joseph has performed more than 7000 cataract operations, and is an integral part of SEE International.
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