December 2017

Christmas is looming. All over the country, people are spending money at the malls on gifts for family and friends. But, imagine rather honouring your loved ones by investing in a cause that will literally have a lifelong effect on those who receive the gift of sight thanks to your generosity?

By Helen White

Nelson Mandela struggled with impaired vision because of the glare of the sun that bounced off the limestone quarry where he was forced to work. The horrors of those days are over – but many people in the country are still needlessly blind or visually impaired. Look at it this way: Many of us spend R27 a day on a delicious cup of coffee in the morning. Interestingly, that is around the same amount of money it would take per capita to end avoidable blindness over ten years in the entire developing world.

According to an extensive study done by PriceWaterhouseCoopers for Australian organisation The Fred Hollows Foundation, “ending avoidable blindness in the developing world can be achieved for as little as $2,20 per person per year.” The collective amount – which is $128.2-billion – is the extra amount (on top of money already invested in eye health) to build eye health systems “to such a size that they clear the existing backlog of avoidable blindness and sustainably treat new cases as they arise.”

The idea isn’t that one should feel guilty about that delicious cuppa in the morning. Instead, it is to show how little it takes to achieve so much, and how this could be aided by individuals making contributions which won’t deplete their bank accounts. More the point is the false economy of not ending avoidable blindness when the return on investment is so staggeringly high. Sadly, many countries in the developing world do not have that type of money in the budget – although a closer look at the benefits might encourage decision makers to shift their perception, or individuals to reach into their pockets.

Broken down, the figures look like this: it would cost $13.6-billion to clear the backlog of people requiring operations, procedures and treatment for cataract, glaucoma and trachoma to mention but three of the culprits. It would also cost $56.6-billion to invest in first-contact eye health services. By increasing screening at primary healthcare level, eye diseases could be identified and treated long before they plunge patients into a world of darkness. And lastly, it would cost $58-billion to invest in the training of appropriate hospital staff (ophthalmologists, cataract surgeons and ophthalmic nurses) who could restore sight to millions of people.

All in, for every single dollar invested, $4 of economic gain would arise. Unfortunately, people often labour under the misconception that blindness is neither preventable nor treatable, and therefore, in the ever-competing world for funding, health care support and advocacy, blindness falls short of resources. This idea that it is not preventable or treatable is completely untrue, and programmes that target blindness and the conditions that cause it, change the lives of individuals, families, communities and the country at large.

If you’ve ever wondered about that over a cup of coffee, now you have the stats to know that it’s true: investing in eyes in investing in life, and the festive season is the perfect day to begin doing what you can to help.