A cataract is the clouding of the eye’s natural lens which prevents clear vision. It is the most common cause of vision loss among people over age 40.
World Health Organization (WHO) says cataract is the principal cause of blindness in the world, responsible for about 51% of world blindness, which represents about 20 million people worldwide. According to WHO estimates, 1.2% of the entire population of Africa is blind, and that cataract causes 36% of this blindness. Meaning that about 6,000,000 people are blind and about 2,000,000 of them are blind due to cataract.
Many African hospitals can afford successful cataract surgery; however, some barriers such as low income and limited number of competent hospitals prevent patients to access quality surgery especially in developing countries like Cameroon.
In March 2018, the government of Cameroon launched a 5-year innovative cataract project through the Development of Impact Bond (DIB) to the tune of about USD 10 million (approximately FCFA 5,824,213,667). In the course of the project, About 115,000 cases of cataracts have been recorded in Cameroon. The project aims at providing 18,000 cataract surgeries in Cameroon. About 2,500 successful surgeries have been achieved within the first year of the project.
The Magrabi ICO Cameroon Eye Institute (MICEI) reports that estimated 48,000 surgeries are needed each year in Cameroon to treat new cases of cataracts and mild the rising cataract cases which are said to double by 2020.
Samuel Fai, Senior Ophthalmology Technician, Baptist Hospital Muntengene (BHM) of the Cameroon Baptist Convention (CBC) Health Services says cataract occurs when the opacity of the natural eye lens becomes blurred or thicker over time due to age and causes the patient not to see clearly (a blurry vision).
“Cataract amounts to about 50% of the different eye cases treated in our hospital. We do about 70 surgeries of cataract cases every month. Other common eye cases we treat here at BHM are Glaucoma, Diabetic Eye Disease, Low Vision, Dry Eye, and others” reveals Mr. Fai.
Cataract generally affects old people from age 50 and above. Some cases of cataract can start as early as 40 for people, who are frequently exposed to heat.
CBC Health Services Press learned that there are cases where a child can be born with cataract when the mother during pregnancy has an illness like rubella (another form of measles). This form of cataract is called Congenital Cataract.
Scholastica Shulika Assistant Ophthalmic Medical Assistant at the Nkwen Baptist Health Center, Bamenda told CBC Health Services Press that, out of about 700 different eye cases seen at Nkwen Baptist Health Center, about 300 (40%) are cataract. She affirms, “Cataract cannot be prevented. As people get old, the natural lens of the eye just like eyeglasses we use depreciate over time or become dull and blurry.”
“Surgery is the only way cataract can be treated. The natural lens of the eye is replaced with an artificial one. The good thing is that sight lost or blind sights caused by cataract can be restored unlike sight lost owing to other eye conditions like glaucoma which cannot be restored”, Shulika said.
Senior Ophthalmology Technician, Fai Emanuel adds that apart from natural age, cataract can also be caused by trauma, diabetes and heat radiations.
“Cataract if not early diagnosed leads to blindness. It is necessary for every individual to go for eye checkups at least once in 6 months to ensure that their eyes are healthy,” the Ophthalmology Technician advised.
Forms of Cataract
- Subcapsular cataract: This occurs at the back of the lens. People with diabetes or those taking high doses of steroid medications have a greater risk of developing a subcapsular cataract.
- Nuclear cataract: This type of cataract forms deep in the central zone (nucleus) of the lens. Nuclear cataracts usually are associated with aging.
- Cortical cataract: This is characterized by white, wedge-like opacities that start in the periphery of the lens and work their way to the center in a spoke-like fashion. This type of cataract occurs in the lens cortex, which is the part of the lens that surrounds the central nucleus.