COVID-19 has had a huge impact on Indian ophthalmology

Colin Kerr

Posted: Thursday, May 14, 2020

The aftermath of the COVID-19 virus has had a very significant impact on ophthalmology in India, according to Professor Rohit Shetty MD, PhD, FRCS, of Narayana Nethralaya Eye Hospital, Bangalore, India.

“While small practices have completely shut down, the larger ones are catering to emergencies as of now. Tele-ophthalmology is picking up and should bridge the gap, albeit a small part,” said Prof Shetty.

Since ophthalmologists do not see patients with active COVID-19 as of now, they are using masks and goggles/shields to prevent spread from those in the incubation period. “We are screening all those who enter the hospital for temperature, contact and travel history. Masks have been made mandatory for all. Hand sanitizers and social distancing is emphasised,” he said.

Like ophthalmologists in other countries, Indian eye surgeons are looking forward to life after COVID-19, but Prof Shetty acknowledges that the way they practice ophthalmology will be very different from the way they were practicing ophthalmology before the outbreak of the virus.

“There has been a huge impact on  practices and lockdown has totally exhausted cash reserves. When we start practicing ophthalmology again, we are expecting a very low turnaround for patients or elective surgeries. We also anticipate a drop in refractive surgery and premium lens surgeries as the Indian economy will be very badly hit by the lockdown and its consequences,” he said.  “Investment in new technologies and equipment will also be stalled.”

As Prof Shetty points out, it is impossible to predict the future. “We will know the challenges once we start taking baby steps towards normalcy after the lockdown is lifted or once the curve flattens,” he said.

After COVID-19, one of the major challenges facing ophthalmologists and other health professionals around the world will be to look at how they handled the COVID-19 crisis.

“Mistakes were made,” he said,” and we have learnt from them. Had we all followed social distancing and self-isolation more stringently, the spread would not have been this extensive. And the fear of the unknown (those in the incubation period), will not prevent us from performing to our capacity. We will need to tread the middle path more cautiously, for ourselves and society,” said Prof Shetty.

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