Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Christmas 2016: Being Well

The BMJ Christmas appeal 2016-17: changing children’s lives through cataract surgery

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: (Published 15 December 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i6650
  1. Jane Feinmann, journalist
  1. London, UK
  1. jane{at}

The charity Orbis seeks an end to avoidable blindness worldwide by training local eye care teams, which is why we chose it for our Christmas appeal this year, explains Jane Feinmann. Please give generously

In rich countries cataract surgery is one of the most common, and most successful, operations. But it’s a different matter in sub-Saharan Africa, where congenital cataracts cause one in three cases of childhood blindness. Racheal, born with congenital bilateral cataracts in a remote village in Zambia in December 2014, is one of 82 000 African children whose vision is affected by cataracts. Africa has an estimated 19 000 new cases every year.1

Turning around such high numbers is a huge challenge in a continent where children’s eye surgery is far from routine. “Unlike adult cataract surgery, paediatric cataract surgery needs to be carried out as soon after diagnosis as possible. It’s also more complex: it’s the kind of operation that becomes simple once you’ve done your first 10 000 procedures,” says Larry Benjamin, consultant ophthalmic surgeon at Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust and …

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