With an estimated 1.3 million Malaysians still living with uncorrected cataracts, pharmacists are stepping up for training to help identify and refer those individuals to treatment.

Cataract Finder is a new joint initiative between the Malaysian Community Pharmacists’ Guild (MCPG) and the MAIWP*-Hospital Selayang Cataract Surgery Centre, which aims to equip volunteers with sufficient basic and relevant skills to diagnose the condition. The one-day program includes lectures in the fundamentals of eye anatomy and disease progression, as well as hands-on training in screening techniques such as Snellen chart measurement and basic ophthalmoscopy.

According to the MCPG, the workshops are primarily aimed at pharmacists and pharmacy students, with community pharmacists particularly encouraged to participate as they are often considered the first line for patients. Registration is also open to other allied healthcare professionals who would like to provide the service to the community and assist in the effort to reduce national cataract rates.

“Many patients [with cataracts] come to your pharmacies asking for eyedrops, or something to deal with their vision problems; if you can identify them, you can help them,” said Dr Moklisoh Mohamed Apandi, program coordinator and full-time consultant ophthalmologist at the Centre. “Cataract rates are rising in Malaysia, but there aren’t enough [clinical teams] to go out to the population; we need volunteers who can educate them and get them to come to us.”

While the present public health system does not allow for allied healthcare professionals to directly provide letters of referral for cataract patients to go to hospitals or specialist centres, participants who complete a Cataract Finder workshop can be included in a growing referral network headed by Dr Duratul Ain Hussin, public health optometrist at the Cataract Surgery Centre. The network can arrange for referral letters to be sent directly to a confirmed patient’s home address.

Cataracts form when the protein-based lens of the eye becomes increasingly opaque due to aging, injury or metabolic disruptions (eg, hyperglycaemia) which interfere with natural maintenance mechanisms. To resolve this, the lens can be replaced with an artificial structure in a procedure that takes a mere 5 to 30 minutes by a trained operating team.

However, despite the relative simplicity of the procedure—typically an outpatient affair—and its low cost at government facilities, many people with developing cataracts are unaware of the curability of the condition, or are reluctant to seek medical help, said Moklisoh. Patients with cataracts in one or both eyes frequently persist in carrying on daily routines even when visual acuity has deteriorated to mere light perception.

“They need some supportive mechanism to bring them here,” Moklisoh added. “Even their family members may not be aware, because [the patients] don’t tell their family members; they just feel their way around their house because they know how the layout is. Some patients that we get can’t even see the pot when they’re cooking—and yet they still try to cook.”

Cataract Finder conducts two workshops a month, with the last two currently scheduled for September 2018. Further information can be obtained from the MAIWP-Hospital Selayang Cataract Surgery Centre at 03-6251 2393, or from Shuwirda of the MCPG at shuwirda@mcpg.org.my.