Roughly a quarter of childhood blindness cases in sub-Saharan Africa result from cataract, a treatable condition, see figure at right. The cataract-afflicted children typically remain blind due to lack of diagnosis and medical care and all too often die before reaching adulthood.
Project Eye-Opener, founded in 2013, by Drs. Ehud Zohary and Itay Ben Zion has been set up to improve these children`s fate in a dramatic way. It combines surgical treatment with rigorous scientific evaluation and follow-up therapy to optimize chances for sight recovery.
To that end we launched an effort to locate children suffering from blindness from birth due to bilateral cataracts, and surgically treat them at Hawassa referral hospital, Ethiopia. We also rigorously evaluate their vision before surgery, and test the sight using various tests aimed to assess multiple aspects of functional vision periodically after surgery. This detailed follow-up strategy is crucial to obtain a deeper understanding of the processes involved in functional sight recovery, mapping the obstacles which limit visual performance. The problem is that some processes of visual development may have a critical period for acquisition, beyond which only limited progress can be made. Our aim is to remove or bypass these potential obstacles using novel perceptual learning techniques. These techniques, developed by our team member Dr. Uri Polat, have been shown to lead to substantial gains in visual function during treatment of adult patients with a lazy eye syndrome (amblyopia).