Sustainable surgery

Researchers report on a sustainable model for cataract surgery in India

06 Dec 2017 by Emily McCormick

Researchers have identified an environmentally sustainable model for cataract surgery that reduces the amount of emissions produced.

The study, performed at the NYU School of Medicine, found that the Aravind Eye Care System in south India emits 96% less carbon than the UK and produces “comparable or better” health outcomes for common procedures such as cataract surgery, they said.

The researchers explained that while pollution goes relatively unnoticed in the healthcare industry, it accounts for 10% of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants that are emitted in the US and 3% in the UK.

Published in the Journal of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, the study’s lead author, Dr Cassandra Thiel, said: “Overuse of disposable materials is unsustainable. Ophthalmologists and other medical specialists should seek ways to reduce material use and emissions in medical procedures. This centre in India can serve as a model.”

Aravand Theater

Analysing the surgical materials, energy and waste from cataract surgery used by the Aravind Eye Care System between November 2014 and February 2015, researchers calculated the greenhouse gas emissions, as well as emissions related to ozone depletion, water eutrophication, toxicity and air pollutants. They found that it emitted just 4% of the emissions that are released in the UK for the same procedure.

Researchers report that practices that made the difference included shorter surgery times, better re-use of surgical gowns, caps, boots and blankets; multi-use pharmaceuticals; and efficient sterilisation of stainless steel instruments.

The practises that are being successfully utilised through the Aravind Eye Care System are highlighted at a time when India seeks to end preventable blindness by doubling its current cataract surgical rate.

Highlighting the difference that the practices make, researchers shared that if India’s ophthalmologists used the UK’s current surgical methods to achieve this goal, it would emit the same greenhouse gases as 250,000 passenger vehicles’ yearly mileage. However, using the Aravind approach, it would only emit the same greenhouse gases as 9000 passenger vehicles.

Dr Thiel encouraged: “As healthcare systems and professionals worldwide become more aware of and concerned for the public health implications of climate change and excessive resource use, efficient care delivery models must be better understood and promoted.”

Referencing the Aravind model, senior author on the paper, Joel S Schuman labelled it as “an example of more sustainable, efficient cataract surgery.”

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