By Hibah Bhat
OVER the years as Kashmir witnessed an ‘eye emergency’ due to renewed rage and offensive, eye specialists found themselves grappling with the growing calamity inside the critical care units turned ‘war-theatres’.
Eventually, as the strife-torn eye-load crowded the outside clinics to fix their enforced darkness, the questions were raised on the valley’s ability to handle the eye-crisis, even as a certain Tamilian would lead the way by showing up as a ‘eye-messiah’ at the peak of the searing summer of 2016.
Availing the expert services of the same south Indian surgeon, Kashmir’s 50-year-old clinic is now trying to attune itself to play a larger role in mitigating the eye crisis of the valley.
Apart from spreading awareness through medical camps, Dr. Manzoor Eye Care Centre is trying to end Kashmir’s reliance on the outside clinics by making treatment convenient and affordable.
In a candid chat with Kashmir Observer, son of (late) Dr. Manzoor, Dr. Khurshid Ahmed—who previously worked as a chief eye surgeon in a government mobile health unit—talks about Kashmir’s eye crisis, his clinical interventions and why Kashmir doesn’t need the outside eye-care anymore.
Where does Kashmir stand in terms of eye care facilities?
Well, in terms of eye care, Kashmir is far better than most of the states. Equipped with latest technology, our two medical colleges and health centres are doing an excellent job in making this ‘second-to-none’ distinction.
But we can still improve eye care by holding more eye camps, especially in far-flung areas. As we live in the ‘subspecialties era’, we also need specialists to deal with a certain kind of diseases. In this regard, government intervention and support is must.
So, what’re the most common eye diseases in Kashmir?
Cataract, which is a treatable blindness, is the most common eye disorder in Kashmir, followed by diabetic and hypertensive retinopathy. Besides, age-related eye degeneration, glaucoma and misalignment of the eyes remain the common eye problems in Kashmir.
What approach is needed to prevent these eye diseases?
I would say social awareness is the key. In absence of it, many patients tend to overlook eye disorders or signs making them prone to eye diseases in future.
And since Kashmir houses sizeable diabetic patients, they’re prone to eye-impairment and blindness called diabetic retinopathy.
Similarly, any patient over the age of 40 can develop an eye disorder called glaucoma, which can cause blindness by damaging an optic nerve.
Children and people above the age of 45 are most vulnerable to eye problems.
The best way to prevent these eye diseases is to have regular eye-checkups, at least once in a year.
People from smaller states mostly prefer going to outside clinics or hospitals for treatment. Is that the case with Kashmiris too especially when it comes to eye care?
Well, it isn’t anymore. However, there was a time when the patients would go outside the valley for the eye-care treatment.
But now, times have changed. Apart from the government hospitals, our private eye care centers are today equipped with the latest technology to deal with all the eye problems.
So, I feel there’s no need for any patient to go out of the valley for an eye care. And I tell you why.
Usually, a high eye care surgery, say a corneal transplant, in a private hospital outside Kashmir cost not less than one lakh rupees to a patient.
But in Kashmir, we’re doing the same surgery for just Rs 35,000. So, you can yourself imagine the treatment difference in terms of convenience and cost.
But do you think eye check-ups are as frequent as physical checkups in Kashmir?
No, only 15 to 20% Kashmiris are mindful of the need of regular eye-checkups to prevent ailments.
Are there any eye conditions which are stigmatized in our society?
Many, actually. And one of the most common stigmatized disorders is the refractive errors among girls.
If girls are wearing thick glasses, it becomes a problem at the time of their marriage. So in order to get rid of the glasses, we do offer them a number of treatments like Lasik laser or a refractive lens exchange. With advanced technology, we can get rid of eyeglasses, up to a power of minus 25.
Other than that, squint patients face a lot of challenges. For that as well, we’ve a full-fledged department. We counsel the patients and their parents to seek treatment.
With the unavoidable usage of smart gadgets and screens, our eyes have become more vulnerable to problems. What are the tips that you would like to give to people to take care of their eye health?
People using gadgets should take a break every 20 minutes for 20 seconds. We call it 2020 rule. They should just look toward the far-off objects or keep their eyes closed.
Also, people using gadgets for a longer period of time should use blue-cut lenses with a special coating to restrict harmful blue light.
Plus, people should try to come out of the air-conditioned room for a short period of time to save their eyes from thermal strain.
But how has the process of eye surgeries changed with newer technologies?
Technology has made the process easier and faster. For example, a cataract surgery has now become a 10 minute procedure. Without any injection or stitch and post-operation patches, we introduce a new foldable artificial intraocular lens into the eye. And from the next day, patient is able to do his normal work.
We also do corneal transplant which is performed if the front portion of the eye becomes opaque. So by changing that portion of the eye, the patient’s eyesight can be restored back.
Since Kashmir is a politically-uncertain zone, there are greater challenges on health institutions here. How do you deal with the cases of occasional assault that reach you in the form of pellet victims?
Well, over the years we’ve had the large number of pellet victims who have come here to seek our help. We have been able to treat them in whatever possible way.
What we’ve observed with these pellet injuries is that most of the eyes are damaged beyond repair. The damage to the inside of the eyes is such that even if we operate, they still need multiple surgeries. But now, we’ve developed a good experience to deal with such injuries.
We are in touch with a very renowned ophthalmologist in India named Dr. S. Natarajan. In 2016, he came to SMHS hospital and operated the 100 patients free of cost.
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