Cataract surgery improves household incomes

A new study, funded by The Fred Hollows Foundation and The George Institute for Global Health shows that one year after receiving a cataract operation 17% fewer patients in Vietnam experienced hardship than before their operation.

This meant that they were more able to pay household bills, rent and medical expenses, contributing to a major improvement in their overall quality of life.

The study was conducted in 2011- 2012 in health clinics supported by The Foundation in Vietnam. Patients with cataract were interviewed before surgery, then again six months and one year later. The results add to the growing evidence that cataract surgery is one of the most cost effective health interventions currently available.

After surgery many people increased their work hours by around 45 hours a month. As a result, the median annual income rose from US $451 to US $509 a year. The poorer the person was, the more dramatic the improvement in their quality of life.

Designed by The George Institute for Global Health, the VISIONARY study also shows an increase in unpaid work after surgery – from 93 to 183 hours. Unpaid work contributes not just to a household’s running but it also helps carers, often children, who were previously unable to go to work or school because of looking after a blind family member, to re-enter the workforce or access education.

Brian Doolan, CEO of The Foundation, said “We’ve always known that restoring sight is an effective way to transform people’s lives, but this research provides concrete evidence that it helps individuals and the whole society.”

“Our message to governments and decision makers is that ending blindness is not just a human investment – it also makes good economic sense.” he said.

The study also shows great improvements in patients’ overall physical and mental wellbeing after cataract surgery. They enjoyed better sleep, better relationships and were much happier.

“The VISIONARY study shows that cataract surgery lifts the living standards of patients and their families. As a result the whole economy benefits,” Mr Doolan said.” With the evidence provided by the VISIONARY study we hope to see governments committing to more funding for cataract surgery across the globe.”

According to the World Health Organization, cataract causes 51 per cent of blindness globally and affects more than 20 million people.

When Professor Fred Hollows visited Vietnam in 1992 to introduce modern surgical training and techniques, about 1,000 cataract operations were being performed each year. Now more than 200,000 are carried out.