Learning more about the Pro-bono Cataract Surgery Initiative: IRTIQA interviews Dr Akiel Asvat on this pioneering initiative

-Interview with Jamila Cassim

I conducted an interview on the 14th October with Dr Akiel Asvat , an ophthalmologist based in Sandton , Johannesburg,  with the view of understanding what the Pro-bono Cataract Surgery Initiative was all about. I found it very refreshing that Dr Asvat is a young, empathetic doctor who is passionate about making a difference in the field of ophthalmology. His primary concern is to ease the plight of blind individuals.

Both Dr Asvat and Dr Dindar have been in private practice for the past 4 years and are based at the Icaresandton centre. It is interesting to note that an ophthalmologist studies  medicine for 6 years and then for another four years trains to be an ophthalmologist (two of the four years are spent doing fieldwork).

These dedicated doctors teach at government hospitals whilst still maintaining their private practice. Teaching in the third largest public hospital in the world, the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital , exposes Dr Asvat to rare diseases of the eye  as patients from all over Africa visit the medical facility to attain free quality treatment. The field of medicine in South Africa, according to Dr Asvat, can be compared to the best in the world. According to him, Ophthalmology is a field that deals with diseases of the eye and an Ophthalmologist is an eye surgeon, which is very different from an optometrist that specializes in testing your vision and prescribing the correct spectacles for you. In Dr Asvat and Dr Dindar’s practice, they deal with diseases of the eyes such as glaucoma, cataracts, Keratoconus and diabetic eye disease. Their objective is to cure reversible blindness and to assist patients with their vision.  According to Dr Asvat, 60- 70% of individuals after the age 60 suffer from cataract which can lead to blindness if not treated. UV rays which we all are exposed to, causes the lens in our eye to harden over time. Statistically, this means that there would be a staggering amount of aged people that would need surgery in the generations to come. Having diabetes makes the condition worse. According to the International Diabetes Federation Africa, in 2015 alone, there were 2.28 million cases of diabetes recorded in South Africa alone.

Dr Asvat explained that he sees at least 15-20 patients a month that need cataract surgery. Most of them cannot afford it as it costs on average an amount of R 24 000. As a result, many patients have to be referred to state hospitals for treatment. They are placed on a 2-3 year long waiting list before being attended to and a lack of adequate equipment means that these patients most often than not, end up going blind eventually.

Since there is a dire need to address the plight of individuals suffering from cataracts, Dr Dindar and Dr Asvat put together the initiative of the pro-bono cataract surgery. This surgery will be performed on 20 “deserving” individuals on the 18th and 19th of October at their private practice in Sandton.Since putting this initiative in place they now have a response from the public; that at least 300- 400 individuals are in desperate need for the surgery.

What are the qualifying criteria for the surgery? It’s quite simple: A South African citizen who cannot afford the surgery is a possible candidate..

Interested parties should do the following:

  • They should be diagnosed as having cataract by an optometrist or an ophthalmologist
  • An optometrist or ophthalmologist must write a referral letter stipulating the level of their vision
  • The referral letter must be sent via email motivating why they are deserving patients
  • They must submit bank statements or pension cards
  • Lastly, they have to be a south African citizen

For this initiative to be sustainable they would need donors to come on board to sponsor future patients. The doctors will charge a minimal fee to cover the basic hospital charges. Their mission is to help as many people as they can and continue this initiative in the long run in an attempt to give back to the community.

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