HelpMeSee Is Helping to End Cataract Blindness

ysm helpmeseeCataracts are the leading cause of blindness in the world. This eye disease affects approximately 6 million individuals living in 23 Western and Sub-Saharan African countries. Cataracts are curable with surgery, and sadly, millions of people lose their sight to a disease that can be treated.

Dr. Jean Marie Andre and Dr. Bernard Ridings, two ophthalmologists from the University of Marseilles in France, decided to address the problem of cataract blindness. Using a relatively unknown procedure called MSICS (manual small incision cataract surgery), the duo began in 2002 in Mali. The Faculty of Medicine in Marseilles and the West African Health Organization (WAHO) partnered together so that 50 ophthalmologists from all areas of West Africa could be trained in MSICS. These trained ophthalmologists could then help individuals affected by cataracts in their home countries.

MSICS was the preferred method of cataract removal because it does not require sutures and phacoemulsification (the breaking up of the old lens using ultrasound waves). Phacoemulsification is used in western countries and requires expensive equipment and surgical tools as well as constant maintenance. The challenge in undeveloped countries is that they do not have the ability to sterilize instruments. MSICS reduced the number of instruments needed to perform a safe and effective cataract surgery.

In 2008, the team discovered a solution: single-use kits made specifically for MSICS and funded by pharmaceutical laboratories. “One instrument had to serve several purposes,” said Dr. Andre. “We started with about 50 kits in Dakar, Senegal. It worked very well. Thousands of kits were then distributed and a MSICS training program was developed in Marseilles.”

HelpMeSee, a global campaign designed to eliminate cataract blindness, contacted Dr. Andre and Dr. Ridings to talk about large-scale expansion. the MSICS kits were so successful that HelpMeSee wanted to replicate it worldwide. HelpMeSee is reaching more counties each year, and the campaign hopes to eliminate the backlog of cataract blindness within the next 20 years.

What is so exciting about HelpMeSee is that the campaign not only seeks to provide cataract treatment to men, women and children equally, but it also is targeting women to become MSICS specialists through an education program. The University of Marseilles is joining with HelpMeSee to assist with certification of the surgeons-in-training. HelpMeSee expects to train 30,000 MSIC Surgical Specialists to end cataract blindness.

To find out more about this initiative, please visit www.HelpMeSee.org.