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—-Barbadian specialist conducted trials, provide technical assistance
By Svetlana Marshall
The Department of Ophthalmology at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), in a historic move, conducted a series of retinal surgical trials, as it takes strategic steps to offer retinal surgeries in the future.
Last Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the Department of Ophthalmology in collaboration with Barbados’ Ophthalmologist, Dr. Sherwin Benskin conducted approximately 10 retinal surgeries on patients as part of a trial.
The retinal surgeries included silicone oil removals, diabetic retinal detachments and diabetic vitreous hemorrhages.
The surgeries marked the first for Guyana. “Nowhere in Guyana offers these kinds of surgeries; most persons would have to go overseas,” Head of the Department of Ophthalmology, Dr. Shailendra Sugrim told the Village Voice Newspaper, while noting that only minor retina procedures were done in the past.
It was explained that though the department had long acquired the requisite equipment to facilitate retinal surgeries, it lacked the expertise to facilitate such. As result, assistance was sought from its regional counterpart in Barbados to not only facilitate a small number of surgeries but to offer technical assistance in the form of training as well as advice.
For a period of five days, Dr. Benskin – an Ophthalmologist and Vitreo-retinal Surgeon who heads the Department of Ophthalmology at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Barbados – offered his expertise and guidance at the local department here.
“This does not mean we are going to start doing routine retinal surgeries. In order to do retinal surgeries, there needs to be a lot of planning and resource mobilization to start, and it is a very expensive procedure,” Dr. Sugrim was keen on noting.
He anticipates that the service will be offered in 2022 or 2023, however, in the interim, the Ophthalmology Department will continue to offer screening and treatment of patients suffering from Diabetic Retinopathy (DR) and other retina related issues.
The primary cause of retinal problem in Guyana is diabetes which result in Diabetic Retinopathy (DR), however, aging and injuries to the eyes could also result to retinal detachment.
“A lot of patients, when they reach the advanced stage, we can’t do much because they require surgery, and so they have to travel overseas; so when we catch it early, we try to treat, and locally, we treat with lasers and medicine,” Dr. Sugrim explained.
In his interview with the Village Voice Newspaper, Dr. Benskin said he was pleased to work along with Dr. Sugrim and Dr. Arlene Bobb-Semple – the Ophthalmologist with Vitreoretinal specialty training (Retina specialist) at the Ophthalmology Department, GPHC.
He said Guyana, like other Caribbean nations, have a high demand for retinal surgeries. “Apparently, and I can see that from being here, there is a desperate need for retinal surgery in the population. You have a lot of patients who are going blind because basically, if your retina is detached…and if not fixed in a timely manner you will go blind or lose a lot of sight,” he explained.
Dr. Benskin said during his short stint in Guyana, he came across a number of patients with retinal detachment.
“Like any other Caribbean country, the population is the same, so the demographics are the same, so you will have the same conditions. For example, a lot of the patients we saw on Monday they have cataract, glaucoma and retinal problems and diabetes and glaucoma will be the main cause of blindness in our population,” he posited.
Dr. Benskin underscored the importance of screening and early detection.
“In many, many cases the retinal surgery is to salvage… but it is important because a lot of the patients can’t see and so surgery is very important; you are giving people their sight back or helping them preserve their sight,” he posited.
Dr. Bobb-Semple said the hospital has been offering screen services through its Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Clinic. It was noted that diabetic patients are not required to be members of the Eye Clinic.
“Patients who are diabetic can just come in or make an appointment to have their eyes examined, they don’t have to be member of the clinic,” she posited.
There is a branch of the Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Clinic at Enmore, and according to Dr. Bobb-Semple soon another branch will be established in Diamond.
“We are working on the screening aspect, so we wouldn’t have so many patients ending up with such complicated problems that require retinal surgery.” Dr. Bobb-Semple said.
ROUTINE SURGERIES AND CHECKS
Retina issues aside, the Head of the Department of Ophthalmology said the Eye Clinic at GPHC facilitates a number of surgeries for cataract, glaucoma and external injuries. In collaboration with the Subraj Foundation, the Eye Clinic also conducts corneal transplants and other cornea related procedures.
According to Dr. Sugrim, 90% of the patients at the clinic require surgery for the removal of cataract. “Cataract is the number one cause for blindness around the world and about 90% of our cases are cataract,” he posited.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit Guyana in March 2020, the clinic, like other departments, had put a halt to surgeries, however, according to Dr. Sugrim, operations recommenced in the first quarter of 2021.
“Now we are back to doing about 35-50 cases per week…and we see about 100-200 patients a day in the clinic for consultation,” he detailed.