Experts have warned against a fly-in, fly-out model of treating blindness in the developing world, describing it as “downright dangerous”.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 90 per cent of the estimated 45 million people in the world who are blind, and the 250 million more who are severely vision-impaired, live in low-income countries.
Moreover, the WHO says blindness contributes to the cycle of poverty in those countries, disrupting everything from education to employment. About 80 per cent of blindness cases are classified as avoidable.
But South Australian ophthalmologist and founder of non-government organisation Sight For All founder, Dr. James Muecke, said the best way to combat blindness is not in short-term service provision trips, where skilled individuals or groups fly in to perform surgeries.
Brian Doolan, chief executive of the Fred Hollows Foundation, takes it a step further, labelling the fly-in, fly-out model as downright dangerous
“From a purely mathematical viewpoint, such trips make no sense. Doctors enjoy these trips as they feel they’re doing some good. Individual patients benefit. But ultimately they have no impact at a population level as the blindness rate continues to soar,” said Dr. Muecke.
Brian Doolan, chief executive of the Fred Hollows Foundation, took it a step further, labelling the fly-in, fly-out model as downright dangerous because it “undermines the systems in the countries where we are working”.
“There was a distressing study done in India that found the second leading cause of blindness was bad surgery. You have to do about 100 cataract operations to get a good understanding of the nuances involved in this kind of surgery.”
The comments were made as Dr. Meucke discussed the results of a large survey of avoidable blindness in Burma. A team led by the Sight For All organisation discovered eight per cent of adults over the age of 40 who were sampled in a regional area of the country were blind – the highest reported rate in the world.
Dr. Muecke said the organisation presented the survey results to the health minister of the Southeast Asian country, who pledged immediate action.
The government has followed through on the promise, opening two eye centres in the delta region, with two more set to open near Rangoon, Dr. Muecke said.