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Number of blind may double in 20 yrs

By Kalpana Jain
Times News Network
Monday, January 21, 2002

Indraprasth - Despite major advancements in eye care,
more people in India suffer from a complete loss of
sight, brought on largely by treatable conditions, now,
than a decade ago.

And if the trend continues, the currently estimated
number of blind persons at 18.7 million would double in
about 20 years' time.

These estimates, put together by three researchers of
prestigious institutions and published in the latest
issue of the National Medical Journal of India, reflect
not just serious problems in public health programmes but
also the inequities that still do not allow people,
especially in the rural areas, to avail of quality
cataract surgery.

This is the commonest cause of preventable blindness.

During the last decade, the percentage increase in cases
of blindness has been an alarming 50 per cent, the study
points out though the government's blindness control
programme aimed at bringing the prevalence down to 0.3
per cent by 2000 (about three million blind people).

While blindness from factors such as trachoma and
nutritional causes has declined, that from non-
communicable diseases, such as cataract, is now on the
increase. Even uncorrected refractive errors form a good
part of blindness cases.

Additional professor at the All India Institute of
Medical Sciences Atul Kumar says lifestyle changes are
also leading to more blindness.

For instance, with the increasing diabetic population,
retinal blindness as a result of diabetes is going up.

In a way, both obesity and stress, the precipitating
factors for diabetes, are partly responsible for
increasing blindness, he says. In addition, with an
increase in life-expectancy, cataract-related blindness
is also increasing.

National policy has apparently been unable to keep in
step with demographic and lifestyle changes.

Three researchers Lalit Dandona, Rakhi Dandona and Rajesh
K John have pointed out that 90 per cent of this
blindness could well be eliminated by the end of this
decade if only effective strategies to treat cataract and
refractive error were developed.

The researchers applied data from an Andhra Pradesh Eye
Disease Study to the population distribution of the
country to estimate the number of blind persons in the
country. Andhra Pradesh, they said in their paper, was
chosen to extrapolate data as the prevalence and causes
of blindness in the state had been found to be similar to
the average of the country. The National Family Health
Survey also showed infant mortality rates and crude death
rates for AP as close to the national average.

Even worldwide, a campaign, Vision 2020, has been
launched by the World Health Organisation for elimination
of avoidable blindness. India is a signatory to this
Right to Sight declaration. Coordinator of Vision 2020,
WHO, R Pararajasegaram, while commenting on the study,
said important insights were provided which may lead to
appropriate shifts in policy, the journal stated.

Read the complete news at:


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