Strengthening of ophthalmic unit requires more focus

By Harold McGluwa MPL DA Northern Cape Provincial Spokesperson of Health:

While the rest of the country observes Retina Week, the Northern Cape still has little to celebrate regarding eyesight.

It has come to light that the provincial health department is failing to sufficiently prevent blindness through increased cataract surgery.

While we note that the Health Department has this past week been giving attention to eye care and has made commitments in this regard, this is not enough. Instead, the department must adopt a more robust and continuous approach towards eye care.

The Northern Cape Health Department’s first quarterly report for 2015/2016 indicates  that while the cataract surgery rate for the quarter was 192/100 000 people, the target was actually 349/100 000 people. In effect, this means that hundreds of people from the Northern Cape remain blind as a direct result of the failure of the provincial health system.

This is a tragedy – in as much as cataracts are the most common cause of blindness, the treatment thereof is also one of the most common and safest ways to restore vision.

The department’s poor ophthalmic performance is due to there being only one establishment offering eye care surgery in the whole of the Northern Cape, coupled with a dire shortage of ophthalmic skills in the province. In fact, there is only one ophthalmologist servicing the entire Northern Cape, who is based at Kimberley Hospital’s ophthalmology centre.  At the same time, there is only one Opthalmic trained nurse in the entire province, based in John Taole Gaetsewe district.

According to the department, they will advocate for the employment of one additional opthalmologist by 2016.  They will also advocate for the employment of one Opthalmic trained nurse for each district.

The DA is of the view that this is simply not enough.

Little compares to the added quality of life that goes hand in hand with the gift of sight and therefore the department must do more to eliminate preventable blindness.

The DA has written to Northern Cape Health MEC, Mac Jack, appealing to the department to speed up the appointment of an additional ophthalmologist and ophthalmic trained nurses, as well as to ensure that bursaries are awarded for doctors and nurses to specialize in ophthalmology. We also want the department to present us with a plan whereby they aim to improve infrastructure and technology to make eye care more available and accessible in the province.

It is unacceptable that in this day and age, no proper eye care is being rendered to the people of the Northern Cape.

If the provincial government is serious about achieving universal access to high quality health care, then they will urgently reprioritize their focus to improve the vision of our people.