US doctor working to cure curse of cataracts in India

Dr Geoffrey Tabin examines his patient, after the operation to remove cataracts. Credit: ITV News/Sean Swan

A US doctor is transforming the futures of thousands of people across India and South East Asia by performing a simple procedure to remove cataracts discovered by a British doctor.

Cataracts are regions of dead cells which occur in the eye lens, making it hard and opaque.

They are the leading cause of blindness worldwide - of the 28 million people living with blindness, an estimated 17 million cases are due to age-related cataracts. 90% of the blind live in the developing world.

In rural India Dr Geoffrey Tabin, founder of the Himalayan Cataract Project, is working to change the lives of thousands afflicted with cataracts.

Dr Geoffrey Tabin carries out hundreds of operations in one flying visit Credit: ITV News/Sean Swan

Flying across the poorest parts of the county, setting up mobile clinics and treating hundreds of people in a day, he is changing lives overnight.

International Correspondent John Irvine reports from one such clinic in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh.

Cataracts are most common in communities living in rural poverty as they are caused primarily by malnutrition and intense exposure to UV light.

Blindness for those living as substitence farmers in the developing world means the inability to work and utter dependance on the extended family. Being blind in this context reduces life expectancy by a third, and sudden blindness for one individual in a family can become the tipping point for survival if they are impoverished to begin with.

A child before his cataract operation Credit: ITV News/Sean Swan

The operation performed to remove cataracts was originally discovered by a British ophthalmologist treating RAF pilots during World War Two at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.

Dr Harold Ridley discovered that the splinters of Perspex from cockpit canopies which had come embedded in the eye did not produce an adverse reaction, and thus were the perfect material to make artificial lenses.

The operation, as it is performed today by Dr Tabin, takes approximately ten minutes and costs about £15 per head.

He explained to John Irvine how simple the operation was, whilst performing it on a middle aged woman.

Patients then wear sunglasses for the next few days to ease the transition out of the blindness.

In the space of three days, Dr Tabin and three other surgeons operated on almost a thousand patients.

Patients wear sunglasses after their operation to ease the journey back from blindness Credit: ITV News/Sean Swan

A day after the operation, the patients are tested to ensure the surgery has been effective - and in the vast majority of cases it is: The World Health Organisation described cataract surgery as the most cost-effective public health intervention.

The cataract treatment costs about £15 per person Credit: ITV News/Sean Swan

The patients, who range in age from the very young to the elderly, then return to their homes with their sight restored and their quality of life transformed.

*Click here to find out more about the Himalayan Cataract Project. *