The damage to health caused by the pandemic far exceeds the consequences of the Covid-19 virus. The interruption of treatment, dictated by the need to maintain social distance, has had dire consequences for patients with heart disease, their treatment for cancer and many other problems, the reversal of which will take some time. This is without mentioning the many problems it causes in health systems. Another area that has been seriously affected and has received relatively less attention in the news – but at least significant – is eye care.
A recent survey by the Brazilian Board of Ophthalmology (CBO), based on data from the Unified Health System (SUS), showed that in 2019 (before the pandemic, 10.8 million medical consultations were performed). In 2020, there were 7.1 million. This is not less than the largest drop, in absolute terms, among all the disciplines offered in the public network. Between April and May 2020 – the months when the general state of disaster due to Covid-19 was in effect – the largest reductions in percentage terms: 74% and 71%, respectively, were concentrated in the total actions, according to the Central Bank of Oman. Only 509,000 consultations took place in these months last year, while in the same period in 2019 there were more than tripled: 1.8 million consultations.
There has also been a decline, albeit less pronounced, in the performance of eye surgeries: just over a million procedures were performed in the country last year, compared to 1.4 million in 2019. For this year, there is an expectation of a resumption of pace, but still far from the pre-pandemic period: As of July, there were 717.7 thousand procedures. This figure is 29% higher than the figure recorded in the previous year (555.4 thousand), but in 2019 in the same period 829,5 thousand surgeries were performed. Data were collected from the SUS Outpatient Information System.
Ophthalmological problems may not have the same urgent appeal for most people as other health problems may inspire them, but for the eyes the same basic principle applies to all diseases: the earlier a diagnosis is made, the faster, simple, and effective treatment is. Those who postpone a visit to the ophthalmologist put themselves at risk of developing diseases such as glaucoma, cataracts, or exacerbation of diabetic retinopathy, for example. The interruption of examinations and consultations during the beginning of the quarantine period affected a large number of people, whose treatment for eye diseases will certainly be more complex.
As vaccination progresses, there will be conditions so that not only eye treatments, but also those for any disease, return to normal. The proportion of Brazilians with a complete vaccination plan (with two or one doses) is already over 48%, and more than 73% of the population has received at least one dose. Immunization progress must continue. With the protection provided by the vaccine, in addition to mask use and frequent hand hygiene, consultations are safer. Ophthalmological treatments, if delayed, cause damage to the visual system that can become irreparable.
American philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “Men’s eyes speak as much as their tongues, with the advantage that the ocular dialect does not need a dictionary, but is understood all over the world.” It would be impossible to attempt to condense the importance of the eyes into a single text – from the innumerable references in the many manifestations of art to their central role at a time when all information is transmitted on screens, in writing, or in video clips. But, in addition to being the proverbial “windows of the soul” and perhaps our most requested tools for communicating with the world, the eyes are members of a subtle and complex modification. So your health deserves all the constant care.
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