HI: Saving People’s Sight 4:00, 2018 (Ref: SA18839)


Saving People’s Sight was a huge part of the humanitarian mission of the US military ship UNSN Comfort when it anchored off Guatemala. UNSN Comfort is just like any hospital. It has operating theatres and wards for general and special surgical care. Military staff perform 300 cataract operations during their mission, many of them mature cataracts.

One of Comfort’s patients was 74-year-old Juana Mejia who has several health problems, but one particularly worried her. Juana had cataracts. She needed surgery, but like many people in Guatemala she could not afford it.

The health visit by UNSN Comfort, run by the United States Navy, lasted ten days. The Navy first of all had to work out who could best benefit from their advanced medical skills, which are in short supply in Guatemala. After the initial assessment, Juana and other patients were transferred to the floating hospital for treatment.

She was found to have a cataract. A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye, which gradually blocks vision, making it difficult to focus. They usually develop over a long period. Mature cataracts are common in poorer countries. Removing them depends less on advanced technology than on the surgeon’s skill.

The cataract in Juana’s eye was a thick, dark build-up that blocked her sight. A permanent plastic lens was implanted in her eye to restore her vision. A few stitches and it was over. The surgery took less than an hour.

Procedures like this could improve the sight of millions of people in poor countries.