Ophthalmologists struggle to treat patients due to pandemic

MANILA — Ophthalmologists on Tuesday lamented the difficulty of treating their patients due to the coronavirus pandemic which has forced them out of their traditional spaces in health facilities.

“Most of the partner hospitals where most of our volunteer doctors perform surgery have been converted to COVID-19 hospitals. Our partners now only have truly outpatient consultations. And even with outpatient consultations, it’s really limited. So in terms of service delivery, it’s been very challenging,” Dr. Noel Chua of the National Sight Preservation Committee told a news conference.

Chua added that patients who frequently need to visit their eye doctor are those with glaucoma, diabetes and hypertension.

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“Patients need frequent follow-ups, but this time they are afraid to go to the hospital… Those are the hardest ones we have to deal with. A lot of people are really delaying their surgeries,” Chua said. .

Eye doctors were also concerned that their patients would delay key treatments due to the closures.

“Lockdowns and concerns about exposure to the virus have caused people of all ages to cancel or delay key appointments, raising red flags among ophthalmologists,” said Dr Marie Joan Loy, president of the Vitreo-Retina Society of the Philippines.

Pandemic-related restrictions have also affected patients’ ability to afford eye-related treatments, Loy said.

“Lockdowns and the closure of commercial establishments have also increased the unemployment rate, resulting in non-adherence to treatment for many of our patients.”

According to the 2018 Philippine Eye Disease Survey, the national prevalence of visual impairment is 1.98%.

Among its leading causes are cataracts, which affect 1.18 million Filipinos, of whom 393,000 require surgery; uncorrected refractive errors where 423,000 Filipinos are affected; glaucoma with 300,000 Filipinos affected; and maculopathy with 223,000 Filipinos affected.

According to the Philippine Eye Research Institute (PERI) 2021 survey, “60 out of 100 Filipinos have had eye problems in the past 3 years.”

Top 5 eye problems include blurred vision (44%), itchy eyes with or without discharge (41.6%), eye redness (23.6%), eye pain (15.4%) and injuries / eye injuries (3.6%).

According to the survey, 44% said they could not afford medical fees and procedures, 17% did not have an eye doctor available near their place of residence, and 14% feared the diagnosis or medical procedure.

But even for those with little or no visual impairment, a medical check-up is still necessary.

“Even if you don’t have vision problems, you can have eye disease, so it’s important to get checked, especially for people with diabetes, because you can have DM retinopathy which can lead to blindness,” said PERI director Dr Leo Cubillan. .

Outdoor exposure is also recommended for children to improve their eye health.

“There have been studies among myopia that if you increase your outdoor exposure to light, it reduces the progression of myopia. So kindergarten and elementary school are recommended to be exposed to light. outdoor light,” Cubillan said.

Ophthalmologists, including those in the private sector, have stepped up their awareness campaigns using social and mainstream media.

Electronic consultations are also being conducted to reduce exposure to the virus.

An online remote screening program has also been developed.

They also said that if ever patients decided to go to hospitals for eye care, they would be taken to safe and secure areas.

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