Combat Blindness International, an organization started in Madison 35 years ago, says it has eliminated cataracts, a leading cause of blindness, in Botswana, where there had been a 6,000-person backlog of cataract surgery.
This age-related disease, which clouds the eye lens, accounts for 50 percent of the 36 million people who are blind, said CBI founder and chairman Dr. Suresh Chandra. The surgery to correct cataracts cost $25 and takes just 20 minutes, but a shortage of eye doctors has led to a years-long wait for the simple procedure.
Previously, people in Botswana were waiting three or more years to receive the surgery. CBI, along with four other organizations including Cambridge Health Partnerships, Dr. Shroff’s Charity Eye Hospital, PEEK Vision and the Botswana Ministry of Health and Wellness eradicated the backlog in just three years.
Worldwide, CBI has completed more than 360,000 cataract surgeries since its inception in 1984.
CBI is now working with the Ministry of Health in Botswana to train homegrown physicians and ophthalmologists. In Africa there is one ophthalmologist for every 1 million people compared to the US where there is one ophthalmologist for every 12,000 people.
President of CBI and daughter of Chandra, Reena Chandra Rajpal, explained the country has a current contract physician program to address the lack of ophthalmologists and physicians in developing nations. The program hires doctors who can serve for a two year period.
Rajpal said CBI hopes to train people in Botswana for a long-term sustainable approach.
“Being an aged related disease, (cataracts) is not going to go away. You can just do your best to get a handle on it,” she said.
CBI operates in 15 countries all over the globe, including right here in Madison to screen children for eye disease and corrective lenses.