Opthalmologist Dr. Geoffrey Tabin opens Mammoth Medical Missions’ IDAMC
“In Nepal, you get old, your hair turns white, then your eyes turn white, and then you die,” said Dr. Geoffrey Tabin, an ophthalmologist who has made it his life’s mission to restore sight to people in developing countries suffering from cataract-caused blindness.
The International Disaster and Austere Medicine Conference, hosted by Mammoth Medical Missions, kicked off on Tuesday, September 20 with Tabin’s lecture. Founder of the Himalayan Cataract Project, Tabin was inspired to become an ophthalmologist after climbing Mt. Everest in 1988 and seeing how many people in Nepal were suffering from totally treatable blindness.
Worldwide, Tabin said, about 20 million people are considered “totally blind” because of cataracts, which are a clouding in the lens of the eye due to the clumping of cells or protein, obstructing light. That number jumps to 60 million when considering those who are considered “legally blind.”
“The Nepali expression for a blind person is ‘a mouth with no hands,’” said Tabin. People who go blind in developing countries experience a loss of social status, self esteem, and can be viewed as burdensome for their families. Their life expectancy drops to 1/3 of that of their peers.
Dr. Tabin described giving people their sight back through cataract surgery as, “This crazy miracle. People were instantly restored to life. The next day they looked 10 years younger.”
The two visionaries that inspired Dr. Tabin to make cataract surgery his life’s work were Dr. Sandak Ruit, a Nepali eye surgeon who pioneered small-incision cataract surgery, and Dr. Fred Hollows, a New Zealander whose calling was also curing treatable blindness. In 1993, Dr. Tabin said, the cost of the small lens (known as an IOL) needed to replace the cataract-damaged lens of the eye cost around $200, which made the cost of performing the surgeries in developing countries prohibitively expensive. Hollows died from cancer in 1993, but one year later the Fred Hollows IOL Laboratory at the Tilganga Eye Centre in Kathmandu began producing IOLs at the cost of about $5. Since then, according to the Fred Hollows Foundation, the laboratory has produced more than two million lenses.