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Life-changing cataract operations continue in Cameroon despite pandemic

June 2021

An innovative eye health project to treat cataracts in Cameroon has exceeded targets, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 6,300 people have had cataract operations in the past three years at Magrabi ICO Cameroon Eye Institute (MICEI), exceeding the target of 5,600.

The operations were funded by the Cameroon Cataract Bond, which was launched in 2018 and brings together eye care delivery experts with public and private investors, health donors, and development organisations including Sightsavers. It funds and supports training for eye health staff, health systems strengthening and 18,000 cataract operations over five years.

The pandemic has presented many challenges for eye health: surgery numbers have been affected, outreach camps have been put on hold and it has been harder than ever to reach participants from disadvantaged backgrounds. But safety protocols put in place by the hospital meant that despite the challenge of COVID-19, 1,200 patients were able to have surgery in 2020.

The hospital is planning to resume its outreach services once it’s safe to do so. Lessons learned and best practice on how impact bonds can deal with events such as COVID-19 will also be shared, following research with the Brookings Institution, Oxford University’s Government Outcomes (GO) Lab and Ecorys.

Primary donor and hospital founder Dr Akef el-Maghraby, an ophthalmologist and chairman of the Magrabi Hospital Group, said: “We know that in Cameroon we need to carry out about 48,000 surgeries each year to treat new cases of cataracts, as well as addressing the backlog of people who need cataract surgery. I am very proud that despite COVID-19 we have managed to achieve such good results at the end of our third year.”

The Cameroon Cataract Bond is led by a coalition including Sightsavers, The Fred Hollows Foundation, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, African Eye Foundation and Volta Capital. It is financed with a US$2 million loan to MICEI from US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Netri Foundation.

Two surgeons in green scrubs carrying out an eye operation.

Learn how we've adapted our work during the pandemic

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