| Updated at: 1233 PST, Thursday, November 18, 2010|
LONDON: You may have noticed that a growing number of Kenyan CEOs no longer peer at the world through thick glasses.
This is because they have all parted with over Sh120,000 to correct their visual problems using a new laser technique known as Epi-Lasik.
“After wearing glasses for more than 30 years, it is almost a miracle to wake up in the morning and see the world around you without fumbling for your glasses on your bedside table. It is an amazing feeling which I never thought I could ever experience,” said Patricia Ithau, Managing Director of EABL’s ventures arm.
Ms Ithau joins around 3,000 other Kenyan executives who have embraced the new technology to rid themselves of glasses for the rest of their lives.
Over the last six years, Dr Mukesh Joshi has made that desire a reality for several executives using the more commonly heard of Lasik technology, which involves cutting a small section of the cornea and then using a laser beam to correct anomalies on the affected eye lens.
The technique works for near sightedness (myopia), long sightedness (hyperopia), blurred vision (astigmatism) and presbyopia—a visual challenge associated with old age.
Laser surgery is applied to heal a number of vision challenges among them short sight caused by the cornea being steep or occurrence of a large eye ball.
Long sight is as a result of a small eye ball and the cornea being too flat.
Either of the conditions hinders accurate focus of light rays to the retina, a situation that brings about disrupted sight.
Occasionally, irregularities can happen in the cornea that cause both distant and near objects to appear blurred.
“The process of laser vision correction involves reshaping the cornea with excimer laser, a form of ultraviolet chemical light beam which is commonly used in eye surgery,” says Dr Joshi, the medical director of the Laser Eye Centre located at Nairobi’s Sarit centre.
The latest innovation in the technology has seen the introduction of a non-cut lasik procedure which according to experts has the highest safety record compared to the former laser technology.
“The Epi-lasik procedure is a surface laser treatment where superficial cells are separated from the Bowman’s membrane and the excimer laser is applied to the stroma and held in place with a bandage contact lens,” adds Dr Joshi.
As Epi-lasik procedure does not involve cutting, it guarantees highest safety since there are no resulting dry eyes, night driving problems or flap related complications.
According to Dr Joshi, laser correction (both lasik and epi-lasik) is relatively expensive compared to other vision correction methods and as such ends up locking out some patients from accessing the treatment.
Laser surgery costs anything from Sh120,000 with prospects of even higher charges depending on the source of treatment and the technicalities involved in the procedure.
A pair of spectacles retails for as low as Sh900 to as high as Sh10,000.
Designer frames are much more expensive, with prices as high as Sh50,000 or more.
Compared to laser eye correction, temporary sight correction is relatively cheaper.
But laser correction bears more advantage over temporary solutions as the patient gets permanent eye correction, hence no need for frequent routine eye-checkups.
For Mr Anoop Shah of Kensta group of companies, the surgery has meant he no longer relies on a pair of glasses to improve his vision.
“After 40 years of wearing glasses, it was the most liberating experience ever. I now have 100 per cent vision without wearing glasses,” he says.
Before a patient can be declared fit to undergo the procedure, several tests are run, mainly to establish the thickness of the cornea.
Patients with a thin cornea are often unlucky as they do not qualify for the procedure.
“While 90 per cent of patients with vision defects qualify for laser procedure, 10 per cent do not qualify as they do not have thick cornea,” adds Dr Joshi.
A few weeks ago, the government moved to embrace the technology as it seeks to meet 2020 global commitment to the right to sight.
The Ministry of Public Health and sanitation launched a mobile diabetic laser eye clinic.
But analysts say it remains to be seen how much the government will invest in making permanent vision corrections affordable to majority of the population.
It is currently a preserve of the affluent in society.