Vision for Zambia – how you can help children in Africa see again this holiday season.

Orbis, the sight-saving charity that transforms lives by preventing and treating avoidable blindness and visual impairment, is appealing for support. For the next two months, the UK government will be doubling all public donations made to their Vision for Zambia appeal, helping the charity prevent blindness in twice as many children.

Orbis - Vision for Zambia
Orbis – Vision for Zambia
Ophthalmic Nurse, Ann-Marie Ablett (interviewed below) , is the winner of the Royal College of Nursing in Wales 2014 Humanitarian Relief Award, which recognises her amazing contribution and commitment to improving health services in areas of need around the world. She has volunteered with Orbis since 2003, using her annual leave to take part in 29 training programmes, including 7 in Zambia, sharing her skills with nurses and treating over 1000 patients.

Zambian children are four times more likely to suffer from blinding conditions, such as cataract, than those in countries such as the UK. Here the condition is thankfully rare, affecting 3 out of every 10,000. It has one of the highest rates of paediatric blindness globally however there are few ophthalmologists – 15 vs 3,000 here in the UK, and only one paediatric ophthalmologist in the entire country.

With the right access to treatment, half of paediatric vision loss can be avoided or cured. Orbis relies on its amazing medical volunteers, like Ann-Marie, to train eye care specialists, including nurses, surgeons and anaesthetists, who transform lives. Ninety percent of blind children do not attending school and 60% of die within a year of becoming blind; this appeal can make a real difference.

In order to save the sight of over 105,000 children, Vision for Zambia will raise funds to improve outreach work and train over 750 eye care professionals, including nurses. The UK public can help save a child’s sight for free – when they visit and sign up to find out more, a generous supporter will give £1. Until the 3rd February the UK government is matching all donations, so this simple act will generate £2.

Patient Talk – Who is Orbis and what do they do?

Ann-Marie Ablett – Orbis is a an eye charity focusing on blindness in developing countries, we focus on particularly on children, 90% of children in Zambia do not attend schools so that means there is no door open for them for the future and also shockingly 60% of children die within a year of becoming blind, that’s 3 in every 5 children because they haven’t had the opportunity or the means where they can be screened for avoidable or untreatable blindness.

Patient Talk – Ok and what does the training consist of?

Ann-Marie Ablett – Well we have Doctors, Nurses and biomedical engineers so my role as a volunteer nurse is I will work very closely with the local nurses, I will scrub with them and go through the practises and the principles of safe side surgery, reducing the risk of infection and the easiest way to do that is to make sure you wish your hands properly, there is a specific way when you are scrubbing for cases and so we are there to expose the patient to best practise and we teach the nursing staff because once we go in the door that’s all they say is ‘ help me, please help me to learn ‘ so that they can support their patients and help them to lead a productive life.

Patient Talk – Ok and can you tell us a bit more about the Vision for Zambia campaign?

Ann-Marie Ablett – It’s focusing on Vision for Zambia , focusing on screening and treating up to a 100,000 patients and we are going to do that by working in out of reach areas, we have already been working in Zambia since 2011 and now what we need to do to reach out to reach the patients in outreach areas is to train primary nurses so that they are in a position where they can focus and have a look at the patients eye and determine how early the treatment is required because the earlier you treat the condition, such as cataracts, the sooner the patients vision will be restored. The great thing about this appeal is the UK government is matching the donations which we will have from the public.

Patient Talk – What does being a volunteer involve?

Ann-Marie Ablett – Well it’s one of the easiest things that I have ever done, so what we do is work closely with the nurse, we will present the speciality they have us for ahead of time so that they can learn how to treat the patient so that they can teach their colleagues who are looking after the patients on the wards, so to do that they have got to have an understanding of the problem and the possible complications, nothing is 100% guaranteed and there is always a possibility of a complication so if they know what to look for they can then tell the patient like in cataracts surgery a pain that is not controlled by pain killers than that’s an indication that you need to contact the surgeon.

Patient Talk – Ok who should become a volunteer and how would someone apply to do the types of things that you do?

Ann-Marie Ablett – Well the easiest thing to do is ring up Orbis it’s the most amazing charity, it’s very supportive and I am lucky enough to go to all those countries where the need is greatest, 60% of children die within 1 year of becoming blind and that’s 3 out of 5 children so if you have the opportunity to go there and work with the local nurses to prevent that you would certainly take it up and once you go once you are going to be addicted as I have been addicted for 13 years now and I carry on going so if you were to contact they will take it further and before you know where you are you will be on the plane to an interesting developing country and meeting new colleagues.

Patient Talk – Ok and I just wanted to ask, why did you volunteer?

Ann-Marie Ablett – There are 2 doctors at the hospital who volunteered at Orbis and I asked if I can go and they said ‘no orbis has got their own personal staff ‘ so I wasn’t going to take no for an answer so with further investigation and a bit of determination I found myself going to Zambia And once I got there I realised my practises were no different, we go there to exchange our skills and knowledge and the reception we had from the nurses, really nurses are nurses the world over and all we want to do is care for our patients but I would like to say that once you do it once you won’t ever want to stop just if you don’t do it it’s as though there is a piece if the jigsaw missing and to complete that part of your life you have to go and do something, it’s very addictive.

Patient Talk – Well I was going to say, what is the best thing you have got out of the experience?

Ann-Marie Ablett – Well the opportunity to change the lives of children and their family as well as to do the job I do and exchange the information I have got to make sure my skills are up to date and evidence based but when you think that just by going there for a week or maybe two week you can change the life of the patient and their family and the community, it’s such a warm feeling that you can’t get anywhere else, you can’t buy it and its really quite a selfish feeling because when you go home you think I did something that not many are doing, how lucky am I but then that’s because I work with Orbis and that focuses on education so it boils down to education.

Patient Talk – Ok and what other resources are out there for patients and for people who wish to donate?

Ann-Marie Ablett– Well if they sign up to then we will receive a £1 from generous donors and that will be matched by the UK government so please just sign up to that.

Patient Talk – Ok thank you very much Ann-Marie.

Ann-Marie Ablett – Thank you.

Some Amazing Facts about the History of Cataracts from Hayley Irvin

Cataracts - what it is like to have cataracts
Cataracts – what it is like to have cataracts

Cataracts, a natural result of the aging process, are the world’s leading cause of blindness. Although humans have known about cataracts for thousands of years, treatment options for most of our history were limited to painful and dangerous procedures that offered little in the way of visual improvement. Check out these interesting and little-known facts to learn more about the history of cataracts!

Cataract surgery has been performed for thousands of years.

The earliest artistic representation of a cataract is a small wooden statue of an Egyptian priest from approximately 2457-2467 B.C.E. A white patch, believed to represent a cataract, is carved into the priest’s left eye. The earliest known representation of a cataract removal procedure appeared on the walls of Egyptian temples and tombs centuries later. The word “Cataract” come from the Greek word used for “waterfall” because prior to the 1700s, people believed that cataracts were “opaque material flowing like a waterfall, into the eye”.

500 B.C a procedure, known as couching, could only be performed on people with advanced cataracts. As cataracts worsen, the lens becomes opaque and rigid and the lens capsule and zonules that hold it in place weaken. Early couching procedures involved hitting the patient’s eye with a blunt object in order to displace the lens so it could be absorbed into the vitreous humor in the back of the eye. Because contact lenses hadn’t been invented yet, patients were often left slightly improved but extremely blurry vision.

Early cataract surgery involved a needle, a steady hand, and no anesthetics.

Though cataract removal procedures remained relatively unchanged for centuries, by 29 AD Western physicians had started using a needle break to break up cataractous lens into smaller pieces that would be more easily absorbed into the back of the eye. Because topical anesthetics wouldn’t be more invented for a few hundred more years, doctors required the help of a strong-armed assistant to hold the patient down while they jabbed their eye with a needle. Ouch.

Cataracts  - couching procedure
Cataracts – couching procedure

The advent of “needling” meant that patients did not have to wait until they had advanced cataracts to have them removed. However, as antibiotics and sterile surgical equipment were still a few centuries in the making, the procedure had a high mortality rate, a long recovery period, and still left patients with incredibly blurry vision.

Parisian Jacques Daviel performed the first cataract extraction procedure in 1748.

In couching and needling procedures, the lens was not actually removed from the eye – just displaced and reabsorbed. In Daviel’s procedure, an incision was made to the outer layer of the eye in order to completely remove the lens, leaving part of the lens capsule behind. Londoner Samuel Sharpe introduced a new variation of this surgery in 1753, in which he used his thumb to apply pressure and pop the lens out of the eye. Thankfully, by 1902, doctors were using small suction cups and forceps – you know, actual medical equipment – to remove the lens from the eye.

Intraocular lenses were first developed in 1940 by Englishman Harold Ridley.

Up until the invention of the intraocular lens, cataract surgery left patients with poor visual acuity. Although patients were no longer experiencing cloudy, yellowed, or distorted vision, the lack of lens made it impossible for their eyes to focus light. IOLS changed everything for cataract patients.

Made of plastic, early IOLs provided a permanent solution to vision loss associated with cataracts by giving the eye another lens through which to focus. This improved visual acuity in addition to getting rid of a patient’s cataracts. Since then, IOLs have received numerous upgrades to make them safer and more comfortable for wearers. Now, IOLs are made out of flexible material that respond to your eye muscle’s natural movements and can treat a number of eye problems, including presbyopia and astigmatisms.

In 1967, New Yorker Charles Kelman introduced the phacoemulsification technique for cataract surgeries.

Unlike previous procedures that required a large incision in the cornea to remove cataracts, this technique uses ultrasonic vibrations to break up the lens into incredibly small pieces that could be sucked out through a tiny incision in the eye. Kelman’s innovation, which was less painful and had a shorter recovery time than other cataract removal procedures, further improved the patient experience during and after the surgery.

Claude Monet, the father of French Impressionism, developed cataracts in his old age.

 A product of the aging process, no one is immune to cataracts – even artists. French Impressionist painter Claude Monet developed cataracts during his later years, though he would eventually have them removed.

Cataracts and Monet
Cataracts and Monet

This series of images illustrates how Monet’s cataracts affected his work. Image A, from Waterlilies, was painted while Monet had cataracts. Put through a filter, image B shows what this piece looked like to Monet through his cataracts.Image C, Morning with Weeping Willows, was painted after his cataracts were removed. Notice the differences in color and detail before and after undergoing cataract surgery. The first image really speaks to Monet’s talent as a painter, considering what it looked like to him!

With a 98% success rate modern cataract surgery is one of the safest and most effective surgical procedures performed today. There are more than 3 million cataract surgeries performed in the U.S. every year, and most patients experience greatly improved vision after the surgery. Thanks to computer-assisted technology and the femtosecond laser, it is safer than ever to undergo cataract surgery. If you’re experiencing vision loss due to cataracts, speak with your ophthalmologist today about the best treatment options available to you. Enjoy incredible sight for life!


BIO: Hayley Irvin is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. When she’s not creating awesome content for Marketing Zen Group & Eyecare2020 , she’s writing about basketball, learning about space, and thwarting her cats’ attempts to take over the world. Catch up with her on Twitter @HayleyNIrvin.



Optometrists notice increase in young people suffering from potentially serious eye conditions

  • Going to the opticians
    Going to the opticians

    A Survey of Optometrists shows two thirds have seen an increase in the number of younger patients presenting symptoms of eye conditions

  • Almost half are concerned that people will start losing their sight, or suffering from conditions such as glaucoma and cataracts at a younger age
  • Increased use of screens is considered one of the major reasons for deterioration in eye health
  • Consumer survey shows one in 10 people would only have an eye test if they were experiencing problems
  • Around 45% wouldn’t get their eyes tested if they were struggling to read road signs and one in ten have even got behind the wheel of a car with blurred vision.

The number of young people who are being diagnosed with serious eye conditions is thought to be growing, according to a survey of Optometrists released today. The study saw two thirds of Optometrists say they have seen an increase in conditions such as Dry Eye disease and Blepharitis, while almost half are concerned that people will start losing their sight or suffering from conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts and age-related macular degeneration at a younger age. The Optometrists surveyed say the increased use of screens in our daily lives is one of the major factors in the deterioration of the nation’s eye health (63%).

Also the increasing prevalence of diabetes in the UK (72%), poor diets (70%), smoking (74%), not wearing sunglasses (75%) and not following a proper hygiene routine for contact lenses (62%) all contribute to the worsening of our eyes.

Three quarters of Optometrists say that they are concerned generally about the eye health of their patients, while more than 90% say they don’t think people take their eye health seriously or look after their eyes as much as they should.

Furthermore, consumer research also released today by Spectrum Thea shows one in 10 people would only have an eye test if they are experiencing problems, with less than half saying they would get checked out if they had blurred vision from screen-time, while a third wouldn’t even if they were unable to read small print.

Worryingly, for road users, around 45% wouldn’t get their eyes tested if they were struggling to read road signs from a distance and one in 10 have even sat behind the wheel of a car with blurred vision. Watch the following video for more details of the report.

Readers may also be interested in our recent blog post to celebrate National Eye Exam Month which gave five great reasons to have an eye test.

Cataract Awareness Month 2014 – when actually is it or maybe was it?

Cataract Awareness Month
Cataract Awareness Month
Well better late than never ( or maybe too early!)

As you can see by some of the links Cataract Awareness Month kicks off in just two days time. (Or does it?)

As I mentioned before cataracts are a big issue for my family. Both my parents have had cataract operations as have two of my aunts.

I covered what to expect from a cataract operation in a previous post which you can check out here. It also gives an overview of of what a cataract actually is.

If you want to find out a bit more about Cataract Awareness Month itself then I can suggest you visit the Friends for Sight site.

Here you will notice something that rather confuses me. This page says the month is in June while Vision Texas give August as the month.

Which is correct? Does anyone care? More to the point does it matter?

Do you have UV protection in your glasses? Check out this post to find out why you need it!

UV radiation protection in glasses
UV radiation protection in glasses
Of course, the effects of Ultraviolet radiation (UV) exposure to skin are now widely known, however the risks of UV exposure to eyesight are not as well known, with research suggesting just 10% of the respondents are aware that UV increases the risk of eye damage. The study suggests one in ten didn’t know that eyes are up to 10 times more sensitive to UV damage than skin.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) , UV damage is the most preventable factor of developing cataracts. Exposure to the sun’s UV rays also increases your risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – the UK’s leading cause of blindness.

In past days many opted not to pay extra for UV protection when buying prescription glasses for themselves and their children. Children are particularly susceptible when it comes to UV. Evidence suggests up to 70% more light reaches a child’s retina than an adult’s and that 80% of a person’s lifetime exposure to UV eye damage happens before the age of 18.

Robert MacLaren at Professor of Ophthalmology, Oxford University comments: “Ultraviolet rays are absorbed at the front of the eye and can cause damage to the surface of the eye leading to irritation and redness. This damage may become permanent after years of exposure to ultra violet light – leading to cataracts or age related macular degeneration. Protection from UV in your everyday glasses gives you the best opportunity to avoid eye health issues in the future. It’s encouraging to see this initiative to improve eye health and I hope other opticians will follow suit.”

Do you have UV protection in your glasses? Please share in the comments box below!