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Quick And Inexpensive Surgery Is Being Used To Literally Cure Blindness

The Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP), a nonprofit organization, has been performing free cataract surgeries in countries across Asia and Africa, restoring the sight of thousands with a simple operation that takes just a few minutes.

The HCP was founded in 1994 by two ophthalmologists, Dr. Geoffrey Tabin and Dr. Sanduk Ruit. Their objective was to provide eye care in the Himalaya by training local doctors to deliver ophthalmic care through skills-transfer and education. With programs in Nepal, Tibet, China, Bhutan, India, Sikkim, and Pakistan, the organization has managed to restore the sight of tens of thousands of blind people.

Expanding into Africa, the HCP established The Millennium Villages Project in order to provide all-inclusive eye care in Uganda, Ethiopia, and Ghana, where the organization has been successfully performing cataract surgeries, as well as distributing glasses.

Cataracts are cured by inserting tiny plastic lenses that correctly focus light into a patient’s eye. Almost 50% of people suffering from blindness around the globe would have their sight restored with this simple surgery, yet countries like Ethiopia and Nepal have few qualified eye doctors.

Also, when the two doctors visited Nepal for the first time 30 years ago, a cataract lens cost over $250. Now, by manufacturing the lenses locally, the cost is under $25 per lens.

“Blindness is one of the neglected problems of global health but it’s also one of the few big problems that we can win,” says Geoffrey Tabin, co-founder of the Himalayan Cataract Project. “From the first time I saw the miracle of cataract surgery on a totally blind patient, I realized that there is nothing else I can think of in the realm of medicine that is as cost-effective that we can do [to] really change lives instantaneously.”

On an average day, the HCP clinics perform as many as 200 cataract surgeries a day, which take roughly four to 20 minutes each to complete. Patients must wear gauze bandages for 24 hours after which most patients are capable of passing a driver’s license vision test the following day.

“The joy just comes through,” says Tabin. “The patches come off and it takes them a couple seconds to realize that they’re seeing … and then there’s this unbelievable smile.”

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The Himalayan Cataract Project has been nominated as a semi-finalist for The MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition, which will grant $100 million to the winner to provide solutions to grave social problems. According to the MacArthur Foundation, blindness exacerbates poverty, which in turn extends blindness.

Also, insufficient eye care decreases life expectancy, generates dependency on families and governments, diminishes economic viability, and keeps children from getting an education. Studies show a 400 percent return on every dollar invested in eradicating blindness. The project will bring significant advances to families, communities, and countries, and create a model for curing blindness in the developing world.

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