Today we celebrate World Sight Day, an annual day drawing attention to blindness, visual impairment and rehabilitation of the visually impaired. Globally, it is estimated that almost 300 million people suffer from severe visual impairment (blindness and low vision). About 90% of these live in developing countries.
There are many factors that cause chronic blindness. These include cataract, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, corneal opacities, diabetic retinopathy, trachoma, and eye conditions in children (e.g. caused by vitamin A deficiency). Uncontrolled diabetes is the main factor contributing to age-related blindness in both developed and developing countries.
The age groups most affected by visual impairment are people over the age of 50 (who suffer mainly from age-related impairments) and children below the age of 15 (mostly due to refractive errors – myopia, hyperopia or astigmatism).
A very important fact worth noting is that more than three quarters of all blindness is preventable or curable. Children in low and middle-income countries in particular are often victims of preventable eye diseases – diseases that, if left untreated, can lead to irreversible blindness. The WHO, in partnership with LIONS Club International, six years ago launched a worldwide, multi-year project to address curable diseases in children – an effort that has so far helped more than 100 million children through increased access to eye care in 30 countries. Many interventions are very basic, such as screening babies and children for eye problems as early as possible. Yet these can have a huge impact, because the earlier any problems are identified, the easier they typically are to address.
Looking at the past 20 years, things are definitely looking positive. Worldwide, visual impairment is decreasing, despite an aging population. This is largely due to the increased effectiveness in treatment of infectious diseases. Many countries have also made progress in terms of the establishment of nationally coordinated programmes to address visual impairment, greater focus on eye care in primary and secondary health care, awareness campaigns including school-based education, and stronger involvement of the private sector and civil society. There are also global initiatives like “Vision 2020: The Right to Sight”, created by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, that are doing amazing work to address the issues that still remain.
So while the problem remains huge, it’s nice to at least be able to say “It’s getting better.” Definitely a good reason for celebration on World Sight Day!