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Open Access Research article

Cataract surgery in Southern Ethiopia: distribution, rates and determinants of service provision

Esmael Habtamu1*, Zebiba Eshete2 and Matthew J Burton1

Author Affiliations

1 International Centre for Eye Health, Faculty of Infectious and Tropical Diseases, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK

2 Department of Ophthalmology, College of Medicine & Health Sciences, Hawassa University, Hawassa, Ethiopia

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BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:480  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-480

Published: 19 November 2013



Cataract is the leading cause of blindness worldwide, with the greatest burden found in low-income countries. Cataract surgery is a curative and cost-effective intervention. Despite major non-governmental organization (NGO) support, the cataract surgery performed in Southern Region, Ethiopia is currently insufficient to address the need. We analyzed the distribution, productivity, cost and determinants of cataract surgery services.


Confidential interviews were conducted with all eye surgeons (Ophthalmologists & Non-Physician Cataract Surgeons [NPCS]) in Southern Region using semi-structured questionnaires. Eye care project managers were interviewed using open-ended qualitative questionnaires. All eye units were visited. Information on resources, costs, and the rates and determinants of surgical output were collected.


Cataract surgery provision is uneven across Southern Region: 66% of the units are within 200 km of the regional capital. Surgeon to population ratios varied widely from 1:70,000 in the capital to no service provision in areas containing 7 million people. The Cataract Surgical Rate (CSR) in 2010 was 406 operations/million/year with zonal CSRs ranging between 204 and 1349. Average number of surgeries performed was 374 operations/surgeon/year. Ophthalmologists and NPCS performed a mean of 682 and 280 cataract operations/surgeon/year, respectively (p = 0.03). Resources are underutilized, at 56% of capacity. Community awareness programs were associated with increased activity (p = 0.009). Several factors were associated with increased surgeon productivity (p < 0.05): working for >2 years, working in a NGO/private clinic, working in an urban unit, having a unit manger, conducting outreach programs and a satisfactory work environment. The average cost of cataract surgery in 2010 was US$141.6 (Range: US$37.6–312.6). Units received >70% of their consumables from NGOs. Mangers identified poor staff motivation, community awareness and limited government support as major challenges.


The uneven distribution of infrastructure and personnel, underutilization by the community and inadequate attention and support from the government are limiting cataract surgery service delivery in Southern Ethiopia. Improved human resource management and implementing community-oriented strategies may help increase surgical output and achieve the “Vision 2020: The Right to Sight” targets for treating avoidable blindness.

Cataract; Cataract surgical rate; Ethiopia; Service provision; Surgeon