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Tackling blindness with focus on vision

Xinhua | Updated: 2024-06-17 06:55
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"I never expected to not only have my eyes saved, but also continue to save lives in the operating room," said an anesthesiologist surnamed Cheng in Chongqing municipality. After being diagnosed with ocular melanoma, Cheng feared that he would lose his eyes.

The removal of eyeballs is a common method for treating intraocular tumors. However, Wei Wenbin, from the Beijing Tongren Hospital, broke the tradition by pioneering the use of partial excision and radiotherapy in China.

When Wei informed Cheng that both his life and eyes could be saved, he realized that his fate could be altered.

As a leading unit of the national technical guidance group for blindness prevention and a World Health Organization collaboration center for the prevention of blindness, the Beijing Tongren Hospital has made a series of breakthroughs in recent years.

These include offering an easier and more widely applicable treatment for ocular melanoma and advocating for the establishment of an infectious eye disease diagnosis and treatment center in Beijing to address eye diseases in patients with liver disease, HIV/AIDS, and other infectious diseases. It also pioneered the establishment of a diagnosis and treatment platform for intraocular tumors, and a screening center for pediatric eye tumors.

These breakthroughs at the hospital represent China's efforts to prevent and treat blindness on a larger scale.

Since the 1980s, the country has implemented plans for blindness prevention and treatment.

In 2014, it successfully eliminated blinding trachoma, which used to be the leading cause of blindness in the country. After years of efforts, some medical institutions have reached the same level in vision restoration cataract surgery as developed countries.

By the end of 2020, China had achieved a standardized age-specific prevalence of blindness lower than the global average and had made significant progress in eliminating avoidable blindness.

However, it is still among the countries that face the highest number of blind and visually impaired patients. The issue of inadequate and uneven distribution of quality medical resources in ophthalmology persists.

Xu Xun, director of the National Clinical Research Center for Ocular Diseases, highlighted the changing spectrum of eye diseases in China.

There is an increasing severity of eye problems caused by metabolic diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and hypertensive retinopathy, Xu said.

In 2022, retinal fundus diseases were included as key focus diseases in the national eye health plan for the first time. Xu emphasized that a comprehensive and systematic focus on retinal fundus diseases plays a crucial role in raising public awareness and enhancing China's capacity to prevent and treat such diseases.

At present, the number of retinal fundus disease patients in the country is estimated to exceed 40 million, and there are only around 5,000 specialized doctors to cater to their needs.

While the absolute number of specialized doctors in retinal fundus diseases is not insignificant, it remains relatively small compared to the increasing demand from patients, Xu said.

To address the problem, the National Clinical Research Center for Ocular Diseases and related associations have established standardized retinal fundus disease diagnosis and treatment processes and scientific management models for chronic retinal diseases in over 1,000 medical institutions nationwide.

"We need to further promote innovation in retinal fundus disease diagnosis and treatment management models, conduct precise early screening, and enhance comprehensive disease management," Xu said.

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