Travelling long distances for eye screening and management of eye problems will be a thing of the past for the community of Khayelitsha and surrounding areas from now on.
On Wednesday June 15 morning, a new eye care clinic for people struggling with diabetes and other illnesses that affect the eyes was launched at Khayelitsha District Hospital (KDH) in a unique research collaboration between the hospital, Tygerberg Hospital, World Diabetes Foundation, Orbis International, the University of Cape Town and other stakeholders back in 2018, aimed at helping the locals who travelled long distance for eye treatment.
The clinic has been established to prevent severe vision loss as a complication of diabetes in the Khayelitsha catchment area by providing high quality diabetic retinopathy services.
KDH chief executive officer, Malibongwe Binza, said the clinic will provide treatment, do research and give advice to patients.
He said it has been a struggle for “the poor” people of Khayelitsha to travel to Tygerberg for their eye treatment but that now that has come to an end.
He added that clinics around Khayelitsha will benefit. “The debate for this took place back in 2018 but then Covid-19 came in. It was not easy engagement but here we are today. We are grateful because the pressure will be reduced from the Tygerberg Hospital. Because we are in a poverty stricken Khayelitsha, not everyone has the money to travel to Tygerberg,” he said during the opening of the clinic.
Mr Binza said the clinic has already seen about 200 patients a day but that he is expecting that number to increase. He said early detection of eye conditions will lead to early intervention and to avoid complications and or even unnecessary blindness.
The elated Orbis International’s Professor Nathan Congdon said the project by his organisation is the first one in Africa. “This is a very important project. This is a project with a vision. It is our first project in Africa. The need was tantamount. It is also important because it looks to people with diabetes. There are many people dying in the country from diabetes,” he said.
This progressive partnership between the KDH, Orbis International and the World Diabetes Foundation was on Wednesday lauded by the MEC for Health Nomafrench Mbombo who said it is less expensive to treat minor causes of vision loss than to wait until one is totally blind and then try to restore vision because by then the service is very expensive, if not possible at all.
Professor Mbombo said the partnership between the government and other stakeholders has demonstrated that health is everybody’s responsibility.
“The government cannot do everything alone. We need the international community, business and corporate to advance some of the projects like this one. Diabetes and its complications is a major challenge. Our mothers are dying of it but again it affects their eyesight and some are even amputated. We are grateful to have this clinic,” she said.
According to the doctors, the project will be taking patients through a series of tests rapidly, aiming to complete these within 40 minutes or less. They said each patient’s results are then individually reviewed online by consultants and their teams. Patients will immediately have information about the outcome of their tests. They will also be asked to attend a follow up hospital visit if the consultant sees something requiring urgent or in person attention.