Background: Previous studies have shown that, despite an increasing availability of cataract surgery, important socioeconomic barriers exist in the acceptance of surgery in many rural areas of south Asia. Nepal has developed a comprehensive national network of eye hospitals but the surgical coverage for the treatment of cataract blind is still low.
Aims: To determine the utilisation of cataract surgery and the level of physical and psychosocial impairment and the socioeconomic barriers to surgery in a group of non-acceptors of surgery.
Methods: Of 319 cataract patients identified in a field screening 96 non-acceptors of surgery were interviewed 1 year after an offer to undergo surgery. The interview included questions on visual function, quality of life, and socioeconomic variables on acceptance of cataract surgery. The quality of life questionnaire was based on the field validated protocol addressing the impact of visual impairment on physical and psychosocial functions. The questionnaire was adapted to the local conditions after pretesting. Data were analysed by degree of visual impairment.
Results: Of 319 cataract patients identified only 45.5% accepted surgery, with men accepting surgery more readily than women (RR = 1.31; 95% CI = 1.04-1.67) because of a significantly greater acceptance of surgery in men in the non-blind group. The acceptance rate was significantly higher in the blind group (RR = 1.74; 95% CI = 1.36-2.22) compared with those patients having impairment of vision and severe loss of vision. Of 96 non-acceptors interviewed only a further 13% accepted surgery after a second counselling. The most frequent reasons given for not accepting surgery were economic (48%) and logistical (44.8%) constraints followed by fear of surgery (33.3%) and lack of time (18.8%). Half of the subjects complained of problems with self care but only 10% needed help for their most basic every day activities. 17.7% said they needed help to visit neighbours and 26% needed help to attend the field or market.
Conclusions: It was found that in this population with a majority of patients with severe vision loss and blind, even when offered transport and free surgery the utilisation of cataract surgery is below 60%. Medicine tends to be prescriptive based on technological advances that it is able to offer. Medical practice needs to develop a more holistic understanding of the needs of the communities cultivating a greater capability to analyse the role of cultural, social, and economic factors when planning medical services for the population.