Blindness is avoidable in eight out of 10 cases
The World Health Organization (WHO) on October 13 to mark World Sight Day said that blindness could be avoided in eight out of 10 cases with appropriate treatment or early prevention.
Worldwide, WHO estimates that 246 million people have low vision and 39 million are blind, with cataracts as the leading cause of avoidable blindness, particularly in developing countries.
At the same time, cataract blindness in most cases can be treated by a 15-minute medical intervention. Other preventable causes of blindness include diabetic retinopathy and uncorrected refractive error. Trachoma remains the main infectious cause of avoidable blindness and is still common in parts of the Western Pacific Region, including Australia and the Pacific islands.
On 13 October, the international community marks World Sight Day to raise awareness of avoidable blindness and visual impairment. World Sight Day is held annually on the second Thursday of October.
Aside from the substantial impact that blindness or low vision has on a person’s quality of life, there is also a strong economic impact, not only for the person affected but also for the family and community giving support, said WHO. Reducing blindness, therefore, alleviates household, community and national poverty and is linked to improving access to educational and employment opportunities.
Surveys indicate that 90% of people with blindness or low vision live in low-income countries. In the Philippines, for example, an estimated half a million people are blind.
In more developed countries, however, there has been a reduction in visual impairment and blindness as a result of investment and the work of governments and international partners in developing national eye-health systems, including the improvement in the quality and quantity of eye-care services.
WHO is coordinating international efforts in reducing visual impairment, with a focus on building and strengthening health systems:
• strengthening country-level efforts to eliminate avoidable blindness;
• helping national health-care providers treat eye diseases;
• expanding access to eye-health services; and
• increasing rehabilitation for people with residual visual impairment.
In response to the increasing burden of chronic eye disease, WHO is now developing policies and guidelines for diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and refractive errors.
In the last 10 years, WHO has been working with the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness in the global initiative "Vision 2020: the Right to Sight". WHO, in partnership with Lions Clubs International, also established in 2004 a global network of 35 childhood blindness centres in 30 countries for the preservation, restoration or rehabilitation of sight in children. Fifteen million fewer people are blind today compared with projections made when the initiative was launched in 1999.