Twenty elderly men and women in the rural Eastern Cape had their sight restored as a result of a Wits student initiative.
Students belonging to the Wits Rural Health Club organised a cataract surgery outreach project carried out at Canzibe Hospital, a small district hospital near Mthatha. The project benefited senior citizens from the rural villages who received free cataract removal surgery - a sight-restoring operation that is inaccessible to most people in secluded rural areas due to associated travel costs to reach the next bigger hospital, where the waiting list is about a year long.
Wits health sciences students Marietta Neumann, Masego Moloke and Amilcar Juggernath were at the forefront of this initiative whose planning mainly took place during lunchtime.
The trio secured private sponsorship and the participation of two health provincial departments.
The theatre consumables were supplied by Surgical & Ophthalmic Supplies and Genop. Ophthalmic surgeons, Dr Steve Cook , a former Witsie and Dr Andrew Boliter, both based in East London, volunteered their expertise and further contributed some of their own ophthalmic supplies.
Nursing staff were recruited from Canzibe Hospital and from Mthatha. A mobile unit containing an operating microscope, surgeon's chair, A-scan and autorefractor/keratometer was provided by the KZN Eye Care Coalition. Dr Karen Koetsie and Sister Setshego Tlhapi from the Wits Department of Ophthalmology assisted with technical advice throughout the planning stages.
The surgeries were carried out on the 17-19 August 2012 and the results were mostly evident a day after operation.
Nozamile Samuels, who had lost vision on both eyes and a somewhat of a burden to her family, regained so much visual acuity that she was able to read the handwritten notes on her hospital file after the eye patches were removed.
The 20 patients are receiving post-surgery care and support from a local ophthalmic nurse and local health authorities.
Although the student trio are from diverse backgrounds and only joined the Club at the beginning of the year, their combined efforts will have a long-term impact in the quality of life of rural communities. Blindness from cataracts is an ongoing problem in rural South Africa and their vision is to make this an annual project. Follow the Wits Rural Health Club on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Club:
The Wits Rural Health Club was founded by one of our own medical students, Jurgens Staats,
after he attended the Rural Doctors Association of South Africa (RuDASA)
Conference in 2009. He and other medical students who attended the conference
were inspired by a presentation which highlighted the fact that students
who came from rural areas were more likely to return to their original homes and
work there. This inspired the idea of starting a club that would expose medical
students to rural health in the hope of them considering a career in rural health as
only 20% of health care workers in the public sector work in rural areas, where 80%
of the South African population lives. The Club was officially started in 2010 and has
been running for two years.