Eye doctors struggle to treat patients due to pandemic

Jasmin Romero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 31 2021 06:23 PM | Updated as of Aug 31 2021 06:26 PM

MANILA — Eye doctors on Tuesday lamented the difficulty of treating their patients due to the coronavirus pandemic that forced them out of their traditional spaces in healthcare facilities. 

"Most of the partner hospitals where most of our volunteer doctors do the surgery have been converted into COVID-19 hospitals. Our partners are only left with just really out-patient consultations. And even with out-patient consultations it is really limited. So in terms of service delivery it has been a very difficult around," said Dr. Noel Chua of National Committee for Sight Preservation in a press conference. 

Chua added that patients who need to go to their eye doctors frequently are those with conditions like glaucoma, diabetes, and hypertension.

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"Patients need frequent follow-ups but this time they are scared to go to hospitals... These are the difficult ones we need to take care of. A lot of people are really delaying their surgeries," Chua said.

Eye doctors were also worried about their patients delaying key treatments due to lockdowns. 

"Lockdowns and concerns about virus exposure have cause people of all ages to either cancel or delay their key appointment, raising red flags among eye doctors," said Dr. Marie Joan Loy, president of Vitreo-Retina Society of the Philippines.

The pandemic restrictions also affected patients' capacity to afford eye-related treatments, Loy said.

"Lockdowns and closure of business establishments also increased the unemployment rate which translates to non-compliance of treatments of many of our patients."

According to the Philippine Eye Disease Study in 2018, the national prevalence of visual impairment is at 1.98 percent. 

Among its major causes are cataract, affecting 1.18 million Filipinos where 393,000 require surgery; uncorrected errors of refraction where 423,000 Filipinos are affected; glaucoma with 300,000 Filipinos affected; and maculopathy with 223,000 Filipinos affected.

Based on the 2021 Philippine Eye Research Institute (PERI) survey, "60 out of 100 Filipinos experienced eye problems in the past 3 years."

The top 5 eye problems include blurring vision (44 percent), eye itchiness with or without discharge (41.6 percent), eye redness (23.6 percent), eye pain (15.4 percent) and eye injury/ trauma (3.6 percent).

Based on the survey, 44 percent said they cannot afford the fees and medical procedures, 17 percent have no available eye doctor near their area of residence, and 14 percent fear 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 problems with your vision, you can have eye diseases so it is important to be checked especially for those with diabetes because you can have DM retinopathy which can lead to blindness," said PERI director Dr. Leo Cubillan.

Children are also recommended to get outdoor exposure to improve their eye health.

"There were studies among myopia that if you increase your outdoor exposure to light, it reduces myopia progression. So it is recommended among kindergarten and primary school that they’d be exposed to outdoor lights," said Cubillan.

Eye doctors including those from the private sector beefed up their awareness campaigns by using social and mainstream media.

Electronic consultations are also being conducted to decrease virus exposure.

Online remote screening program was also developed.

They also advised that if ever patients decide to go to hospitals for eye treatment, they will be ushered into safe and secure areas.

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