LAHORE (March 7, 2004): The world over, every minute, 12 people become blind, and four of them live in the South-East Asia Region where one-third of the world’s blind (nearly 15 million) live.
Every year almost ten million people in this Region die without their sight being restored, most of them dying within ten years of becoming blind.
The life expectancy of blind persons is two-thirds of that of people who can see.
The blind are among the world’s poorest, though the rich are not immune from blindness.
These views were expressed by Ophthalmologists while talking to Business Recorder here Saturday with reference to surge in blindness in the South-East Asia Region.
“Women are among the worst victims of blindness, not because of biological differences but because of a discriminatory social fabric. In the world today, there are 200 million visually disabled people, and 45 million unable to move about without help. By the year 2020, the number of the blind would have doubled to 30 million in the South-East Asia Region,” medical experts said.
A study of the causes of blindness brings out some striking facts: up to 90 percent of blindness in this region is either preventable or curable, at very modest cost.
Blindness costs the world 25 billion dollars in lost productivity. If the costs of rehabilitation and education and that of the careers are also included, the amount will go up to 75 billion dollars annually. South-East Asia alone bears a net burden of 5.6 billion dollars every year.
“Obviously, this is a very high burden for our already poor economies to shoulder. It is estimated that South-East Asia would require about 200 million dollars annually to prevent or cure major blinding diseases,” experts added.
“We must wake up to the reality that blindness is not merely a medical issue. It is a developmental issue with social and economic ramifications. The political leadership must be encouraged to change their mindset and view blindness prevention as a developmental issue rather than just another health intervention,” they asserted.
Talking about human resources, experts said that there is a shortage of ophthalmologists in most countries of the Region.
“What is even more disturbing is that the number of ophthalmic paraprofessionals is even fewer in most of our countries. Half of the existing ophthalmologists in many countries do not operate on cataracts. in some countries trained ophthalmologists are doing general practice rather than eye care,” medical experts said.
Ophthalmologists said that there was a concentration of eye health workers in large urban areas, whereas the vast majority of the population live in rural areas.
The need is to review the existing training policies and programmes for the entire spectrum of human resources for eye care, they added.
About the bold initiative taken by WHO in partnership with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), they said that the goal of WHO’s ‘Vision 2020’ is to eliminate avoidable blindness from the world by the year 2020.
The strategy includes dealing with disease burden, particularly that caused by cataract, trachoma and childhood blindness. It also aims at improving the human resource situation and expanding the infrastructure to fight the increasing burden of blindness.
They further said that the countries of South-East Asia have made significant progress towards attaining a high level of socio-economic development. Our Region has also made significant health gains in the last half a century.
Reduction in mortality from major infectious diseases has led to a significant increase in the life expectancy of our population. Our health interventions have, however, had less impact on fertility.
Thus, the population of our Region is increasing rapidly. in fact, the spectacular gains in life expectancy made in the last 50 years are often beset with illness and disabilities resulting from blindness, deafness and physical infirmity.
Some people call this the failure of our success, medical experts added.
Source: Business Recorder