Visual outcomes for remote Australian Aboriginal people after cataract surgery


Correspondence: Dr Nitin Verma Royal Darwin Hospital, PO Box 41326, Casuarina, Northern Territory 0811, Australia. Email:


Purpose: To assess the visual outcomes and quality of life after cataract surgery in Aboriginal people and compare them with a case-matched population of non-Aboriginal people living in remote and rural areas in the Top End of the Northern Territory.

Methods: Patients living in remote areas of the Top End of the Northern Territory who underwent cataract surgery between 1994 and 1999 were identified from records at the three major hospitals in the region. Eighty-three patients were included in the study. Each patient underwent a complete ocular assessment and then was administered a standardized, field-tested, 12-item questionnaire concerning visual function. This was analyzed and the results of the Aboriginal and matched non-Aboriginal populations compared.

Results: Sixty-one Aboriginal and 22 non-Aboriginal people from a total of 295 patients who underwent cataract surgery were included in the study. The two study groups were closely matched by sex, age at the time of surgery, time of follow up from surgery and the number who had undergone bilateral surgery. The median preoperative visual acuity for the Aboriginal group was 6/60 against 6/24 of the non-Aboriginal group. After surgery, at the time of follow up, 26% of eyes in Aboriginal patients did not correct to 6/12 or better with pinhole approximation. Posterior capsule opacities were the most common principal postoperative cause for a deterioration of visual acuity in both groups. Postoperative trauma was a common cause for a low best-corrected visual acuity in the Aboriginal group but not in the non-Aboriginal group. The majority (75.5%) of Aboriginal patients were satisfied with their operated eyes. Patients who were dissatisfied all had a visual acuity worse than 6/36. Aboriginal patients reported worse visual function than did those in the non-Aboriginal group.

Conclusions: Cataract surgery has a beneficial effect on the visual acuity and quality of life of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. As compared to their non-Aboriginal counterparts, most Aboriginal people underwent surgery when they were legally blind, had a lower level of attained postoperative visual acuity and a high incidence of uncorrected refractive errors and posterior capsular opacification requiring laser capsulotomy. The positive impact of cataract surgery on the lives of the majority of Aboriginal patients is highlighted, as is the need for continued postoperative follow up.