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Vision may be restored to 6 left blind by free cataract surgery in India


Last week, the Associated Press reported that at least 24 people lost vision after undergoing cataract surgery at a free medical camp, but a new report says doctors may be able to restore sight for at least six patients.

New Delhi, India-Last week, the Associated Press reported that at least 24 people lost vision after undergoing cataract surgery at a free medical camp, but a new report says doctors may be able to restore sight for at least six patients.

The camp-which Indian authorities say was illegal-was located in Amritsar, Punjab, which borders Pakistan in northern India. The exact number of confirmed cases of blindness varies from 20 to 24 via international news sources-while local Indian news sources are reporting as many as 60 patients blinded-out of more than 130 patients who received the free cataract operations in early November. Police are reportedly working to track down every patient who underwent the procedure to identify more victims.

Comparing laser-assisted vs. conventional refractive cataract surgery

Poor surgical hygiene may be to blame for complications, and many had contracted infections, according to some authorities. According to Health Issues India, poor sanitation is one of the biggest health problems facing the country today.

The organizer of the camp has been arrested for allegedly running the camp without governmental permission. The doctor who performed the cataract procedures has reportedly been held for questioning.

Agence France-Presse now reports that a special team of doctors from New Delhi went to Punjab to assess the situation. According to a Ravi Behagat, a senior Punjab state government official, the team found the sight of at least six of the patients can be restored.


Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH) President Dave McPhillips, OD, FVI, FAAO, spoke with Optometry Times about preventing these kinds of situations when providing care in improverished countries. 

"The key for VOSH chapters to avoiding situations like what happened in India is to partner with sustainable clinics that are providing quality care in developing nations and building capacity," he says. "VOSH also partners with surgical organizations like Surgical Eye Expeditions, where surgeons from the U.S. work with surgeons in developing nations during VOSH clinics, helping to provide education as well as assisting with quality care protocols." 

"We are very, very conscious of hygiene and surgery on VOSH trips, as bad outcomes can destroy credibility and potential to return to clinic sites," Dr. McPhillips says. "Patients and their families are concerned enough about getting an operation. Education is key. Word spreads very quickly if someone was made worse visually after surgery vs. before." 

According to Forbes India, there is a wide medical access gap between those in cities vs. those who live in rural areas-70 percent of the population lives in rural areas with little or no medical care available.
“Consequently, the rural population mostly relies on alternative medicine and government programmes in rural health clinics,” writes Vijay Ramnath Jayaraman.

However, the medical camps that serve rural populations are not without risk. A recent article from First Post India heavily criticized such camps. Last month, 13 women died after taking tainted drugs after undergoing a sterilization surgery in the state of Chhattisgarh. Sanitation at the medical camps was one of the main points of the First Post critique.

“On the positive side, the camps bring healthcare facility closer to the rural and urban poor,” writes Parivesh Mishra in First Post India. “District hospitals can be more than 200 km from villages-the camps serve a purpose. The negatives far outweigh the positives.”

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