Prevention of blindness
Ten years ago the World Health Organization
(WHO) together with international NGOs and professional
societies in eye care launched the initiative 'VISION 2020 – The Right to Sight'. Its ambitious objective: To eliminate avoidable blindness by the year 2020'. In this partnership between the World Health Organisation and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, 120 NGOs and professional societies working on eye health are together addressing three main issues: infrastructure, human resources, and disease control.
285 million people worldwide are visually impaired, while 39 million are blind. Over the last five years the number of blind people has significantly decreased from 45 to 39 million.
Cataract is still the most common cause of blindness in the developing world as people living in poverty generally do not have access to basic eye care.
Over 80 % of those who are visually impaired live in developing countries.
In 2010, at the halfway point of the global Vision 2020 initiative, WHO published encouraging figures: blindness globally has decreased significantly from 45 to 39 million:
• Onchocerciasis is largely controlled.
• Great strides have been made with the SAFE trachoma strategy as the number affected by
blinding trachoma has dropped from a high of 360 million 1985 to 40 million today.
• Blindness and visual impairment in children caused by Vitamin A deficiency and infectious diseases has decreased significantly.
• In Ethiopia, where LIGHT FOR THE WORLD has been engaged in Vision 2020 since the beginning,
the success of this approach is clearly visible: in ten years the number of eye care professionals has doubled, three universities train ophthalmologists and five programmes upskill ophthalmic nurses to work as cataract surgeons. As a result, in 2010 41,000 cataract surgeries were carried out in Ethiopia, compared
to 15,000 per year before the launch of Vision 2020.
However, much remains to be done if we are to really address the 80 % of blindness that is preventable or treatable. To do this effectively, 'VISION 2020 – The Right to Sight' has put the development of National Prevention of Blindness plans at its core, linking respective government institutions, NGOs, professional associations and educational institutions. LIGHT FOR THE WORLD is engaged in National Blindness Prevention Programmes in Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, DR Congo, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Sudan, Northeast India and Pakistan and we will continue to work towards the goal of eliminating avoidable blindness by 2020.
Major causes of preventable blindness
Cataract is the most common cause of blindness
worldwide (48 %) and is responsible for 18 million
people losing their sight. Cataract is a clouding of the eye's lens which impedes the passage of light.
Although most cases of cataract are related to the ageing process, occasionally children can be
born with the condition or a cataract may develop after eye injuries, inflammation or other eye disease.
A person with cataract can have their sight restored in a simple 15 minute operation completed
under local anaesthetic, where the cloudy lens is replaced with an artificial intraocular lens. The
results are quick and often dramatic with patients being able to return home the day after surgery
with their sight restored. According to WHO, cataract surgeries are among the most effective health
interventions. In the last 20 years, LIGHT FOR THE WORLD has made possible over 410,000 cataract surgeries.
84 million people worldwide are affected by trachoma.
40 million are at risk of losing their sight,
while 8 million people are already blind or severely visually impaired because of trachoma. Trachoma is
one of the oldest infectious diseases known to mankind, and strongly linked to poverty. Repeated infections
can cause the lid to develop scars, turning the eyelashes inwards, slowly and painfully scraping the cornea and causing blindness. In hyperendemic areas active trachoma is most common in pre-school children with prevalence rates as high as 60 – 90 %. In Ethiopia, LIGHT FOR THE WORLD supports the
mass distribution of antibiotics in highly endemic areas, reaching 850,000 people in 2011, and also provides assistance for the eyelid surgery necessary at a more advanced stage of the infection.
Childhood blindness Around 1.4 million children worldwide are blind due to preventable causes like Vitamin A deficiency, cataract, untreated infections and unidentified refractive errors.
In Northeast India, Rwanda, DR Congo and Pakistan, LIGHT FOR THE WORLD supports child
screenings in schools for early identification and treatment and the provision of glasses. In addition, the programmes raise awareness among parents and teachers to prevent childhood blindness.
Onchocerciasis (River Blindness)
Around 1.4 million children worldwide are blind
due to preventable causes like Vitamin A deficiency,
cataract, untreated infections and unidentified refractive errors. In Northeast India, Rwanda, DR Congo and Pakistan, LIGHT FOR THE WORLD supports child screenings in schools for early identification and treatment and the provision of glasses. In addition, the programmes raise awareness among parents and
teachers to prevent childhood blindness.
In Tanzania, Rwanda and DR Congo we support programmes for childhood cataract surgeries: in 2010 about 400 children underwent cataract surgery there.
Onchocerciasis (River Blindness)
Onchocerciasis is an insect-borne disease caused by a parasite and transmitted by black flies. The parasite moves into the eye causing inflammation, bleeding and other complications that ultimately lead to blindness or other disabilities. It is estimated that there are about half a million people blind from onchocerciasis. The interventions to control the black fly and mass treatments with the drug Mectizan have brought huge success in treating Onchocerciasis. In Southern Ethiopia LIGHT FOR THE WORLD is involved in treating 1.5 million people with an annual dose of Mectizan.
Glaucoma is a common cause of blindness worldwide, responsible for 4.5 million people's sight loss. In developing countries eye clinics often lack the equipment to diagnose or treat glaucoma. Preventing glaucoma in developing countries is still in its infancy and the training of ophthalmologists in this field is vital.
Low vision and uncorrected refractive error
More than 100 million people worldwide live
with low vision, which means that someone has a
moderate to severe visual impairment, even after all
possible medical intervention has been tried. So, in
addition to suitable medical attention, people with
low vision need assistive devices and rehabilitation
to develop their abilities and support them in their
Additionally, more than 150 million people live with uncorrected refractive errors. Without adequate visual aids such as glasses, they have limited access to education and employment opportunities and consequently cannot lead an independent life. In the majority of Africa only 20 % of those who need them have access to adequate visual aids. In Uganda, LIGHT FOR THE WORLD supports the first national programme for the correction of refractive errors, in partnership with the International Centre for Eye care Education. A major aspect of this work is the education of local staff in identifying and dealing with refractive errors.