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Silver Tsunami: how cataract bothers the lives of elderly people in China Silver Tsunami: how cataract bothers the lives of elderly people in China

Silver Tsunami: how cataract bothers the lives of elderly people in China

Silver tsunami, a metaphor used to describe population aging, is not a problem only confronting big cities like Hong Kong, but also challenging the living quality of elderly people in remote villages in Yunnan, China. With aging, health problems including cataract may deprive the older people of good quality of life.

Dr. Gui Dai, an ophthalmologist in Binchuan, Yunnan, China feels deeply about the problems troubling the old people.

Even if a person can see for only one more day or hour in his or her life, it is life changing.
- Dr. Gui Dai, Yunnan, China

Dr. Dai is 42 years old and has over 20 years of experience being an eye doctor. Not only can he perform surgery, Dr. Dai is also a Chinese medical doctor.

Once a 90-year-old patient with bilateral cataract visited Dr. Dai. He had not been able to see for more than 15 years. He wanted an operation immediately when he knew from his friends there was a solution to his blindness. However his children opposed it, and the doctor also hesitated as a result of risks because of his age. But the old man insisted. Once he recovered his sight after the surgery, the old man was very excited because he could play cards with friends again and see clearly the faces of his grandchildren.

“The eye may be less important than the brain or the heart in terms of functioning, but it is very important for the well-being of our daily lives,” Dr. Dai said.

However, some other elderly people are less fortunate and can’t enjoy a straight forward 20-minute operation to restore sight because of poverty. 

De-fen Wang is one of them. She was not happy and lamented her poor health and the poverty she had been suffering all her life.

I worked all year round using up all my energy, suffered, and the money I made is not even enough for a box of matches.
- Da-fen Wang describing her situation out of a local Yunnan proverb.

She could not grow grapes or corn like her neighbours, because she could not afford the money to pay for irrigation and fertilizers. Wang is 79 years old and had poor legs. She had been massaging her legs when talking to The Fred Hollows Foundation. On top of this, she had been suffering from cataract in both of her eyes for more than six years.

“My legs are so bad that sometimes I would cry. At a time when my legs ached the most, I dared not to walk even in the village because I could not see. I squatted down, and wiggled slowly forward. When other villagers saw me, they would come to help.”

Her son did not allow her to do housework or leave the house any more. They were afraid that she would fall down and the family would not be able to afford the medical expense.

She never changed the position of her belongings at home, to make sure she could find them when she needed them.

Wang had one eye operated three years ago which brightened her life somewhat. Yet owing to a lack of money, she remained partially blind for a few more years. 

With the help of Dr. Dai, Wang finally underwent an operation on her other eye. She could easily walk around the bed after the operation. When Dr. Dai took off her eye patches the next day, Wang could see everything clearly in front of her. She could even hold up her 6-month old granddaughter. Wang’s smile returned.

Dr. Dai joined The Fred Hollows Foundation’s cataract surgery training and he believed that eye sight was one of the most important parts of a human body. 

It’s a time of information. Without good eye sight one cannot enjoy a lot of the beautiful things. I wish I can help more people to have good sight and then a good life.
- Dr. Dai