‘Glaucoma and a diabetes complication that affects the eyes known as diabetic retinopathy are the leading causes of irreversible blindness. The prevalence of these conditions is expected to increase over the coming years as people live longer, yet strategies required to effectively screen for these conditions are lacking, particularly in rural communities.’
This is according to Glaucoma Specialist and Division of Ophthalmology Acting Head of Department at UKZN, Dr Nombuso Mathe, who says that the screening and diagnosis of these conditions relies primarily on access to Ophthalmology services which remain centralised to urban areas, leaving rural communities at highest risk.
‘Glaucoma, in particular, also tends to be more aggressive and challenging to manage in African patients and often presents at an earlier age, with most patients already experiencing significant sight impairment or blindness,’ she said.
Mathe said glaucoma is a progressive, incurable disease that is characterised by damage to the optic nerves, with the main risk factors being increasing age and raised pressure in the eyes. Fifty-percent of patients with glaucoma however do not have raised eye pressures.
From 10 to 12 October, a team led by Mathe, in partnership with the uMgungundlovu District Office through Mrs Precious Buthelezi, embarked on an initiative to screen patients in three rural subdistricts (of uMgungundlovu) in commemoration of the annual World Sight Day.
The approach to this initiative was a first-of-its-kind for the province, involving a multidisciplinary team including Ophthalmic nurses from Greys Tertiary Hospital, UKZN final-year Optometry students, uMgungundlovu District optometrists, UKZN Ophthalmology Department Registrars, and Ophthalmologists from the Greys Hospital Unit.
‘With the vision of “saving sight by taking the hospital to the people”, 271 patients were screened over three days and various conditions were diagnosed, including glaucoma, diabetic retinal detachment, refractive errors, cataracts, and allergic eye disease.
‘This initiative also gave the team an opportunity to test the use of technology in the rural setting by using handheld fundus cameras, handheld autorefraction and digital tonometers, which made it a successful and efficient endeavour,’ said Mathe.
Mathe said working in a multidisciplinary team encouraged knowledge exchange and unity, ‘something we need to strive for in the delivery of eye care in KZN’.
‘Most importantly, a glimpse into where some of our patients reside, the roads and distances they have to travel to access our services left all of us touched and truly humbled. Hopefully in the next initiative, we will have more partnerships so we can increase our reach. Thank you to all those who bought into the vision and made this initiative possible,’ she said.