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Campaign To Reduce Endemic Blindness In Developing World Has Promise, RAND Study Says

NEW YORK, April 3, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Use of high-fidelity simulators to train cataract surgeons in developing nations could dramatically cut the prevalence of blindness around the world and thus increase economic output, according to a new RAND study. RAND indicates that the HelpMeSee program could eliminate much of the preventable blindness caused by cataracts across the developing world and thus improve the lives of millions of people.

(Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20130403/DC88441LOGO)

The simulators, modeled on those used successfully to train pilots, are being developed by HelpMeSee.  With this technology, HelpMeSee plans to train 30,000 cataract specialists in developing nations.  If implementation reaches 80% capacity, the plan could restore sight in 21 million cases of blindness and more than 113 million cases of impaired vision by 2030, say RAND researchers.  Despite the potential, challenges remain.  The simulators will need rigorous acceptance testing to assess their effectiveness and practicality as surgical training tools.

Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide, accounting for more than half of all cases. An estimated 21 million people are blind from cataracts, primarily in developing countries. Blindness and visual impairment have enormous negative impacts, creating a burden for families and reducing life expectancy.

HelpMeSee President Mohan Thazhathu responded, "RAND's scenario modeling has provided an extensive assessment of the worldwide problem of cataract blindness, strategic challenges, and milestones to be accomplished."

HelpMeSee plans to operate regional learning centers in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The free-standing in-residence training centers will train up to 1,000 cataract specialists each year per region.  To date, HelpMeSee has supported over 40,000 surgeries with surgical partners in India, Nepal, Togo, Nigeria, Sierra Leon and China, building a foundation for the campaign. 

HelpMeSee founder Al Ueltschi was a pioneer in aviation safety and simulator based training. HelpMeSee Chairman James Ueltschi remarked "We proved through FlightSafety International that simulators can be used to train thousands of pilots. We strongly believe that this principle can apply to cataract surgeons as well. We are very confident this model can succeed.

The sheer number of people who are cataract blind despite the existence of a highly cost-effective solution further exemplifies the failure of modern medicine to meet the needs of the poor.

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