With an eye on clearing the backlog of cataract surgeries by March 2025, the Maharashtra government will diagnose and provide operative services to the more than 27 lakh cataract, glaucoma, squint and refractive error patients across the state.
The Central government had set a target in June 2022, under the National Blindness and Visual Impairment Control Programme and directed the state to clear surgeries pending because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Accordingly, the state government had launched the ‘Preventable Blindness-Free Maharashtra Mission’ last October, channelising over 350 ophthalmic operation theatres in state-run civil hospitals, medical colleges, district hospitals and tapping into other health department infrastructure.
Cataracts account for over 60% of blindness in India
Cataract surgery is provided free of charge under the National Blindness and Visual Impairment Control Programme, to those above 50 years of age, through the state public health department.
There are more than 27 lakh patients with visual problems in Maharashtra | FPJ
Cataracts account for more than 60 per cent of cases of blindness in India, with senior citizens being the most affected. A survey by the ministry of health and family welfare between 2015 and 2018 had revealed that four per cent of the elderly in the country had cataracts.
Number of surgeries dipped during pandemic
The pandemic had cast a grim veil on eye surgery, with both doctors and patients displaying reluctance about the procedure. Data shows that only 2,28,991 cataract operations were done in 2020-21, while in the current financial year, 7.76 lakh people were diagnosed with cataract, of whom 6.28 lakh (80 per cent) underwent surgery.
Official says tribal, social justice departments to provide additional support for initiative
An official from the directorate of health services said that due to the pandemic, the treatment of many diseases took a backseat, including cataract.
“More than six to seven lakh citizens urgently need surgery and there is a huge backlog after the last two years. Statistics show that on average, 200 people in the state lost vision in both eyes, while close to 900 suffered blindness in one eye owing to cataract and for lack of treatment,” the DHS official said.
“While over six to seven lakh cataract surgeries were conducted annually in the pre-pandemic years, in the last two years, only two lakh cataract surgeries could be conducted, as most hospitals were catering exclusively to Covid patients. Now, for the new initiative, besides the state health department and medical education departments, the tribal development and social justice departments will also provide additional support,” the official added.
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