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Himalayan Cataract Project helps cure blindness with cheap, short surgeries

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The Himalayan Cataract Project is a nonprofit that has been performing free cataract surgeries across Asia and Africa since the 1990’s. The two ophthalmologists who started the project say that they were inspired to pursue the initiative after they saw firsthand how debilitating blindness can be – and how easy it is to cure.

Cataracts can be cured by inserted tiny plastic lenses that properly focus the light into a patient’s eye. Roughly half of the people who suffer from blindness around the world could have their sight restored with a simple cataract surgery – however, there are fewer eye doctors in countries like Ethiopia and Nepal.

Additionally, when the two ophthalmologists first visited Nepal three decades ago, the cheapest cataract lens that was available cost over $250; but once the team started manufacturing the lenses locally, they brought the price tag down to 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.”

The project now operates out of Ghana, Bhutan, India, Ethiopia, Myanmar and several others. On an average day, their clinics perform up to 200 cataract surgeries, each of which takes roughly 4 to 20 minutes to complete. After wearing gauze bandages over their eyes for 24 hours, most of their patients are capable of passing a driver’s license vision test the very next 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.”

The Himalayan Cataract Project was nominated as a semi-finalist for The MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition, which will award a $100 million grant to the winner that can provide a bold solution to a critical social problem in the world.

Sources : GNN

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