The KwaZulu-Natal health department conceded that there were problems in providing patients with vital eye surgery, but said it was "doing its best" to address backlogs‚ staff shortages and malfunctioning equipment.

And it was adamant that people were still receiving the care they needed.

The department was reacting to a statement released by the DA on KwaZulu-Natal on Tuesday‚ which contained a response to parliamentary questions it posed about eye healthcare in the province.

In the written reply‚ health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo and acting provincial health department head Musa Gumede revealed that half of the province’s government hospitals — earmarked for eye healthcare — had malfunctioning ophthalmology equipment.

The situation‚ which the DA has described as a "eye health crisis"‚ has resulted in a backlog of 8‚201 patients who are on a waiting list for cataract surgery‚ the cost of which is between R2‚000 and R5‚000 a procedure.

A cataract is a medical condition that clouds the normally clear lens of the eyes. Patients usually experience cloudy vision in mild cases and in more severe case‚ loss of vision.

On Wednesday‚ the department lambasted the DA for its remarks on the issue‚ saying they were "designed to mislead and confuse the public and create unnecessary alarm".

"Although there are challenges with the shortage of staff that is competent in the performance of this type of surgery‚ the department is doing its best to attract and retain more ophthalmologists‚ optometrists and specialist nurses trained in ophthalmology

"In some instances‚ due to the high demand for this service‚ machinery does break down. In such cases‚ the machinery is repaired or‚ where feasible‚ replaced.

"There are currently only five machines that are dysfunctional‚ and these are in the process of either being repaired or replaced‚" the department said in response to TimesLIVE questions.

It added that to help mitigate the effect of the challenges it faced it worked closely with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like the Eskom Health Bus‚ Brien Holden Vision Institute‚ Zimbali Rotary Club and Al-Imdaad Foundation.

"The department is also in the process of having memorandums of understanding with private health facilities such as Mediclinic‚ Midlands Medical Centre‚ Daymed Private Hospital‚ Life Hilton Private Hospital.

"From the start of the 2016-17 financial year to date no fewer than 6‚616 cataract surgeries have been conducted throughout KwaZulu-Natal‚ at 11 district hospitals – including the department’s flagship McCord Provincial Eye Hospital‚" the department said.