HUNDREDS of thousands of people in Zimbabwe and across other parts of Africa and Asia have become blind as cataract operations have been halted by the pandemic.
The international disability charity CBM said that only one hospital in the whole of Zimbabwe had been able to offer cataract surgery last year, although even that was forced to close as rising Covid cases led to a lockdown in December. Zimbabwe has the highest rate of blindness in the world: 3.7 per cent of people aged over 50 in one region are blind.
The leading cause of blindness is cataracts, which affects predominantly older people, but can affect children, too. The situation in Zimbabwe is particularly acute, owing to weaknesses in the health service, its ongoing economic crisis, and the severity of the pandemic, CBM said.
Worldwide, the charity said that three-quarters of those who were blind did not need to be, as their condition could be treated. It costs less than £30 to carry out a cataract operation.
The UK chief executive of the charity, Kirsty Smith, said: “We’ve seen here, in the UK, how the virus has caused major problems for delivering health services, and the same has happened in Zimbabwe; but, in a system that was already stretched to breaking point, the impact has been devastating.
“At one point last year, our partner hospital, Norton Eye Unit, was the only hospital in the whole country still doing cataract operations. Thanks to our generous supporters, we were able to make sure they had protective equipment, and the medical team bravely continued their vital work, restoring sight.
“But they were overwhelmed with demand. Only those who were completely blind in both eyes could even be considered for surgery, with others having to be turned away every day.”
CBM has launched an appeal, Light up Lives, to raise funds to give people access to surgery and treatment. The UK Government will match every pound donated by the UK public until 20 May.