In Peru, eye care is not available to a large part of the population, due to lack of knowledge, economy and poverty. In this very large country, poverty and infrastructure do not allow for adequate eye care facilities and medical clinics, especially in the poorer areas of the country.
Local ophthalmologists are doing much to improve this, but only with the help of foreign colleagues is it possible to make a sufficient effort. Dr Luis Felipe Arevalo, the current Director-Medico of the Clinica Oftalmológica de la Selva, has been working with SEE (Surgical Eye Expeditions) for several years, and through a systematic review identified the need for an eye surgery project in the Cuzco area, preferably of a longer duration. Therefore, in April 2006, an eye camp was planned here.
SEE was the organisation behind the trip and in addition to 3 Danish ophthalmologists there were Dr Aravello , two Peruvian ophthalmologists and an American ophthalmologist. We had a lot of equipment with us, 2 microscopes, 8 boxes of eye instruments and phaco machines for cataract removal with ultrasound. All these boxes attracted a lot of attention at customs, but due to good local contacts through the embassy, none of our instruments were detained or cleared.
Cusco is at 3399 m altitude and stays there are therefore associated with altitude sickness. We all had to take altitude sickness pills, with the side effects they now have including stomach pains, tingling fingers and some fatigue. But despite treatment, you are always affected by altitude for the first several days after arrival, and some of our team had to wear oxygen masks for some time to recover so that a day of surgery could be carried out.
Peruvians are very hospitable and grateful, they came a long way from the highlands around Cusco.
The clothes were typical poncho blankets and several layers of these. Bare legs and worn out sandals.
The skin was tanned and wrinkled from years of sun and wind. The eyes of many of the patients with cataracts were so dense that the grey white pupil could be seen from many metres away.
At the small Hospital Antonio Loreno, we were able to borrow rooms to set up three operating theatres and treat around 55 patients a day
Every day, 2 ophthalmologists were performing preliminary and follow-up examinations, and 3 operating theatres were performing eye operations from morning until late at night. An optician measured glasses and distributed 500 pairs to those who needed them. The glasses were donated by patients of Euroeyes who no longer need glasses after treatment.
The local ophthalmologist checked all operations and no complications were found.