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Uplifting Communities Through The Power Of Sight

On behalf of Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth, ophthalmologist Dr Bayanda Mbambisa was the recipient of the 2019 Discovery Foundation Rural Institutional Award. She talks common eye diseases and her hopes for eye healthcare in the Eastern Cape.



Raised in the town of Ngcobo in the former Transkei area (Eastern Cape), Dr Bayanda grew up experiencing selfless deeds carried out by her medical doctor parents within their community for those who had little or nothing for medical expenses. On an article published by Discovery last month, she’s quoted saying:


“I saw sick people coming for treatment and the joy they showed after my parents’ successful interventions. The lives my parents saved stayed with me and pushed me in the direction of medicine.”

“It was the first time I had applied [for the award] and with the focus of the Discovery Foundation grants on rural and underserved communities, I had hoped we [at Livingstone] would be successful,” Dr Bayanda explains. The grant from Discovery covered the necessary equipment needed such as pentacams, UV lights, corneal tissue for transplants, and more, to perform eye procedures. “We have been able to offer patients with corneal eye problems access to treatment that can improve their vision. You never get tired of restoring sight. As a province, I hope to see quality eyecare become a healthcare priority so that access can be available to many more people.”

Dr Bayanda advises that most eye diseases are not caused by the things we do, however, blindness caused by conditions such as diabetic eye disease can be prevented if managed early. “The most common eye problems in South Africa are cataract, glaucoma [a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve] and diabetic eye disease. All diabetics, whether or not they have eye complaints, need to have a retinal exam at least annually. Once someone has poor vision due to cataract, surgery can be done before they go completely blind, and this type of surgery is highly successful. Glaucoma on the other hand is more common in Africans, especially those over the age of 40 and with a family history. We suggest that everyone over the age of 40 gets screened for glaucoma, particularly if there is a family history,” she continues.

The medical industry, particularly specialised medics, has proven to be male-dominated over the years – something that doctors like Bayanda would love to see change. “I hope to see more diversity in the profession. It is a wonderful career for women. Most of our work is done during office hours, with fewer emergencies relative to other specialities.”

Dr Bayanda completed her undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Medicine and Surgery (MBBCh) at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. She completed a Diploma in Anaesthesia and then went to specialise in Ophthalmology (Fellow of the College of Ophthalmology – FC Ophth and Master in Medicine [MMed]).


Author: Yonga Balfour