During the Eastern Bhutan eye camp

Neten Dorji

Lobzang Budrey, 86, was losing her vision to cataract.  Her vision blurred with age, and she had difficulty recognising people.  Every day, she worries about going blind.

She was not alone. Almost all the 300 people from Trashigang and neighbouring dzongkhags who came to an eye check-up camp had suffered similar matured cataract, a condition of the eye before a person turns blind.

A surgical eye camp team consisting of experts from Gyalyum Kesang Choden National Eye Centre(NEC) of JDWNRH and Mongar Regional Referral Hospital on a week-long camp at Trashigang hospital restored the vision for patients suffering from cataract. 

The patients had been screened for cataract and other conditions by the district eye technicians two weeks prior to the eye camp.

Of 86 surgeries at Trashigang hospital, 66 were cataract

Doctors said that cataracts and pterygium are among the common eye conditions requiring surgical interventions in eastern dzongkhags where the general public are not well informed or aware of the available eye care services. 

Dr. Lhacha Wangdi, Vitreo-Retina Surgeon from NEC said that of the 82 operated patients, 60 were treated for cataract, and the rest for pterygium and other eye conditions in Trashigang. 

“Cataract is an age-related condition which is amenable to surgical treatment. If left untreated it can lead to blindness and other eye complications. Visual impairment related to cataract can be restored if timely surgical interventions are done,” explains Dr Lhacha Wangdi.  

He said most patients have not sought eye care services, thinking it as an old-age disease, and are not well aware of the available treatment options.

The common symptoms of cataracts are painless and slowly progressive diminution of vision, which is due to the clouding of the crystalline lens as a result of degenerative ageing changes. Such a disease is said to be ‘most common among the elderly population.’

According to eye specialist from Mongar Hospital, Dr.Thinley, cataract is a treatable condition. “Most cataracts develop because of the ageing process or as a result of general conditions like diabetes and hypertension. The only treatment for cataracts is surgery,” said doctor, Thinley. 

Some children are born with cataracts as cataracts is a genetic disease and they should be treated within a few weeks after the birth, he said. 

“The surgery is simple. It would not take more than 15 minutes to operate on the eye, during which we take out cataracts and replace them with artificial lenses, allowing improved vision after the surgery,” Dr. Thinley added. .

The eye campaign in eastern dzongkhags is conducted to address the backlog of cataracts and provide services to people who are unable to come to Regional Hospitals to access eye-related healthcare services. 

Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in Bhutan, with many people becoming blind as a result, said a doctor. 

Meanwhile, patients are happy that they availed the service in their locality.

An 88-year-old woman from Dramitse,Tungki, said she visited the gewog hospital as her vision blurred for so long, doctors gave her eye drops as they cannot treat her and advised her to consult with an eye specialist.

“I couldn’t go to Mongar, but I am happy that I availed the service from Trashigang,” she said. 

A farmer, Kunzang Dorji said that his life change after he regained his vision

“I cannot express my happiness. It is a blessing to be able to see again,” said Kunzang Dorji while returning home from the camp. 

The Eastern Bhutan eye camp, which began on April 12, performed more than 300 surgeries and treated patients with various eye conditions in four eastern dzongkhags.

The team will move to Pemagatshel, where more patients are expected.