According to government statistics there are around 4 million cataract sufferers in China. Although the condition can be cured with a simple operation, many sufferers, especially those living in rural areas, are unable to find the help they need. CRI’s Dominic Swire investigates one charity that addresses this problem by bringing the hospital to the people.
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The Lifeline Express consists of four rainbow coloured trains, each carrying specialist equipment to perform eye surgery. The trains travel across China bringing medical expertise to those suffering from cataracts in rural communities who are too poor to find the resources they need to save their eyesight.
Nellie Fong is founding chairwoman of the charity. Speaking during a recent visit to Beijing, she says her inspiration comes from seeing the reaction of patients following successful surgery, especially among the younger ones.
“You see children who were practically numbed and lifeless beforehand. Now they’re running around, giggling, happy; and then they would speak a lot more after they are cured because they all would describe how much they’d suffered and now that they can go home and do all kinds of work.”
A cataract is a clouding of the eye, which can lead to blindness if left untreated. The operation to remove a cataract is relatively simple and takes just fifteen minutes. The charity is able to treat a total of 14,000 cases per year. This works out at about 90 per day for each train. However, while the numbers may sound impressive, this is just a drop in the ocean compared with the estimated four million sufferers across the country – a number that is growing by 500,000 cases per year.
It is for this reason that the charity is now focusing its attention on training rural doctors to continue the work once the trains have moved on. Nellie Fong again.
“The responsibility of the medical team on the train is no longer for them to do the operations themselves but to train up the rural doctors who come to the train to learn.”
The local doctors work with the charity for three months then head to Beijing for further training. If they pass the exams their local medical centre is given the expensive equipment needed to continue performing eye surgery.
The charity’s aim is to help build up a specialised eye centre in every location they visit, thus rapidly increasing the number of patients that can be treated.
The four trains recently set off from Beijing to start their 2010 schedule, which will see them visiting a total of 11 regions and provinces across China.
Dominic Swire, CRI news.