Background: Cataract is the major cause of blindness in the world and affects an estimated 20 million persons globally. In Africa, there is an incidence of half a million new cases of cataract blindness annually, with a backlog of 3 million persons requiring sight-restoring surgery. The burden of this form of curable blindness resides mainly in less developed nations, which typically have limited numbers of ophthalmologists and medical resources. The experience and results of a general surgeon working in rural West Africa, without prior ophthalmic skills but with limited training in the field, are reported.
Methods: Data on all consecutive planned intracapsular cataract extractions performed between January 1994 and July 1995 inclusive were collected prospectively and the visual outcome as well as surgical complications were analysed.
Results: A total of 243 planned intracapsular cataract extractions were performed. Data were incomplete or missing in five cases leaving 238 for analysis. All the patients were blind pre-operatively, with visual acuities of 3/60 or less. Functional vision (6/60 or better) was restored in 95% of all cases.
Conclusions: General surgeons can be satisfactorily trained in the art of intracapsular cataract extractions, with good visual outcomes. This is very useful in the setting of undeveloped countries where there are severe limitations of resources, and the recruitment of trained general surgeons will help reduce the burden of curable blindness in these regions.