NAGPUR: There are 4.5 million visually impaired people in the world and in 80% cases blindness was caused by a condition that was completely preventable. Around one third of the world’s visually impaired population is in India which makes it important for the country to check its national burden of blindness. A huge contributor to the problem is lack of proper facilities and expertise in rural India.
Cataract remains the single largest cause of preventable blindness across the world, contributing to 62% cases of blindness in India. Another trend that is a cause of concern for experts is the number of people who go blind due to refractive error, unavailability of glasses when needed. If proper care and attention is provided, a majority of these blindness conditions, especially among children, can by avoided completely.
“All the major causes of blindness in the country are preventable. In case of glaucoma and retinopathy, early detection can help to stall or delay the problem, and in some cases even completely avoid them,” said Dr AH Madan, head of the ophthalmology department of Government Medical College and Hospital (GMCH). He added that the uneven distribution of experts, with there not even being a post of ophthalmologist in rural hospitals or the necessary equipment to treat patients, only makes the problem worse.
Agreed president of Nagpur Academy of Ophthalmology Dr Sunil Naredi and added that widespread use of telemedicine can help as the problems among rural population can at least be diagnosed and they can be referred to tertiary centres. “We are overcoming backlog but not to the extent desired. It is a ridiculous situation when glasses are unavailable when required. Around 50% of such errors affect young people. With the increased incidences of diabetes, retinopathy is also needs to be tackled on an emergency basis,” he said.
Dr Ajay Sharma, founder of Delhi-based Eye-Q Super Specialty Hospitals, said it is no surprise that cataract is so widespread because it is a physiological change related to ageing. He terms the increasing blindness cases among children as the biggest challenge for the country. “Vitamin A deficiency causes degeneration of the cornea among children leading to blindness. Congenital cataract, that is a child being born with an opaque lens, can be tested while the child is still unborn. However, only 10% of pregnant women in the country are asked to take this simple test,” he said.