The extent and types of ophthalmic disease and non-battle injury (DNBI) seen by expeditionary ophthalmologists at deployed military medical treatment facilities have not previously been reported. We aim to characterise the extent and type of ophthalmic pathology including DNBI at a US military medical treatment facility in Afghanistan.
We conducted a retrospective non-interventional cohort study of all patients seen by ophthalmologists at Craig Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram Airfield (BAF), Afghanistan, between 1 October 2018 and 31 August 2019.
There were 281 patients seen in 540 separate encounters, of which 146 patients seen were active duty military stationed at BAF with DNBI, of a population at risk of 6000 personnel. Diagnoses managed included open and closed globe injury, bacterial and herpetic keratitis and retinal detachment, with the most common being dry eye, corneal abrasion/foreign body, blepharitis, chalazion and uveitis. Thirteen patients (5%) required aeromedical evacuation out of theatre and 39 patients were aeromedically transferred within theatre for assessment. Expert consensus estimated that 89 patients (36%) would be likely to require aeromedical evacuation out of theatre without ophthalmic input.
The rate of ophthalmic DNBI among deployed US, UK and coalition forces at BAF was 2.65% per year, of whom 97% were returned to duty (95% of all patients). We estimate that evacuation and loss to unit would increase from 5% to 36% without an ophthalmologist present. The low number of within-theatre aeromedical transfers suggests that the local presence of an ophthalmologist at a patient’s deployed medical treatment facility affects access to deployed ophthalmic care.

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