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Cataract surgical blitzes: an Australian anachronism

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Surgical blitzes may achieve short-term gains, but they inhibit the development of sustainable local services

Surgical blitzes to treat eye disease are often used to redress shortfalls in service provision. In developing countries with scarce human and financial resources, such periodic visits from local or overseas health teams may be justified, as they are generally combined with building local capacity. However, Australia has no such resource constraints. Despite this, surgical blitzes occur year after year in some rural and remote locations in Australia, without concurrent development of sustainable local services. We see this as a particular problem for eye health in Indigenous people.

The first eye surgical blitzes in Australia occurred during the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program in the 1970s. At each site, an Australian Army field hospital team worked for a week, and about a hundred Aboriginal people had sight-restoring eye surgery.1 Over the years, similar army exercises were repeated across the Northern Territory, including, on one occasion, a tented field hospital being put up in a hospital car park.2

Everyone felt a very good job was being done, but nothing really changed. More recently, regular surgical blitzes, rebranded as “surgical intensives”, were started in Alice Springs and elsewhere in the NT; but…