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HelpMeSee delivers virtual reality, simulation-based training to help fight India’s cataract blindness crisis

Published: 04.01.2022

As millions face blindness due to cataract, new trainees recently graduated from an innovative training programme at B.J. Government Medical College that is focused on improving surgical skills and restoring sight to cataract blind in India.

“In India today, 18 million people are blind or visually impaired due to cataract, because there are not enough well-trained cataract specialists who can perform the surgery and restore their vision,” explained Dr. Sanjeevani Ambekar, head of Ophthalmology at B.J. Government Medical College.

In October of 2021, B.J. Government Medical College launched a pilot programme with HelpMeSee to bring its virtual reality, simulation-based training to help fight India’s cataract blindness crisis by training more cataract specialists. The training also allows ophthalmologists to overcome the limits of COVID-19 on surgical skills training, to increase patient safety.

As of December, nineteen new graduates have received and successfully completed the training, as a total of 190 trainees complete simulation-based training in India this year. Additional courses are underway and will continue in 2022.

Currently, 66% of the blind in India are due to untreated cataract, according to the National Blindness and Visual Impairment Survey. India has approximately 20,000 ophthalmologists, which equates to an average of 8 ophthalmologists for every 1 million people, which is significantly lower in comparison with the developed world and poorly distributed throughout the nation. Many face significant challenges acquiring necessary surgical skills due to limitations with the traditional mode of training.

“COVID-19 has limited surgical training and as our population ages, the gap between people in need of surgery and available surgeons widens,” explained Dr. Ambekar. “To address this growing need, we are using simulation-based training within our residency and fellowship programs for ophthalmologists, to offer a significantly faster and safer path to surgical competence. It ensures not just maintaining, but improving the quality of surgical skills training being offered within the same time frame, despite the challenges faced due to COVID-19.”

“The government in India has shown a deep commitment to finding solutions that will help restore sight for people in India who are blind due to cataract,” said Saro Jahani, president and CEO of HelpMeSee.  “Along with our partners around the world, HelpMeSee is using virtual reality simulation-based training to transform training, making it more effective and efficient. As this treatment scales, it is part of an ecosystem that can restore sight for millions of people.”

HelpMeSee’s partnership with B.J. Government Medical College in Pune, is the first with any government medical college and hospital in India and is one of the many locations where HelpMeSee is making this innovative training program available to aspiring cataract specialists.

The organization has deployed 40 surgical simulators at 11 training centers worldwide.

In India, it has established partnerships with LV Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI) in Hyderabad and Aravind Eye Hospitals in Madurai. HelpMeSee also offers this training at its own training center located in Mumbai.

HelpMeSee offers a six-day full time structured training curriculum, most of which is dedicated to learning and practicing surgical tasks on its high-fidelity virtual reality surgical simulator. Based on a study that was published recently, novice surgeons who were trained using this simulation-based training course performed much better as they began live surgery on patients compared with those trained conventionally. It was observed that those trained with simulation-based training had 50% fewer errors in live surgery, resulting in significantly higher level of patient safety.

“Virtual reality, simulation-based training delivers the authentic feeling of touch that is experienced in live surgery, and the ability to practice over and over, without the risk of mistakes that could permanently damage the sight of a patient,” explained HelpMeSee Chief Medical Officer Dr. Van Lansingh. “The technology has applications for both the developed and the developing world, as seasoned surgeons who have had limited access to live surgery during COVID-19 use it to keep skills fresh and new cataract specialists are trained to deliver care for people in great need.”