11. October 2016 - 11:29

WORLD SIGHT DAY on October 13: Two-thirds of all blind people worldwide are women and girls

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) of 39 million blind people around the world, 64% are girls and women. Blindness affects women more than men, because they are exposed to greater risk-factors, such as proximity to children who carry the largest number of bacteria, as well as less access to medical care in poor countries.

Women are at much higher risk of developing trachoma. The risk of blindness to trachoma in Africa is now up to four times greater for women than for men. Women also have significantly fewer opportunities to get antibiotics or to receive eye operations.

“The best measures against infectious eye diseases are hygienic measures, education and the realisation of gender equality,” says LIGHT FOR THE WORLD expert and ophthalmologist Amir Bedri from Ethiopia, calling on governments on World Sight Day to take action on these points.

LIGHT FOR THE WORLD has been active for blind people in poor countries for many years and is fighting for their inclusion in society as well as for gender equality. In 2015, with the help of LIGHT FOR THE WORLD, almost 100,000 eye operations were performed to support people to recover from various eye diseases.

Lack of hygiene increases eye diseases

The reasons why women and girls are more likely to suffer from trachoma are not biological ones, but are due to social structures. Young girls as well as women often have to take care of the children in the family, especially in the poorest countries in Africa. During the pre-school age, children have the largest number of bacteria in the lachrimal fluid and the nasal secretion, so mothers are particularly endangered to get infected by their children. “Because of the lack of hygiene and the sharing of towels and bed linen, the disease spreads in the family and leads to recurring infections, which require new treatments,” explains expert Bedri.

Poverty, lack of information and education are the greatest barriers to medical care

At its early stages, trachoma can be easily treated with antibiotics and in later stages, like cataract, it can be treated with a surgery. Unfortunately travelling from the villages to the hospitals is particularly difficult for women because they have less access to the financial resources of the family and cannot travel as easily as men.

Sick children and older women need helpers from the family in order to manage the distance. Women and their families are often fearful about the opportunity cost of them attending hospital; they are especially concerned about daily work not being completed and the household suffering in their absence. This is compounded by a lack of information and education on eye health.

Many women are therefore afraid of seeking eye treatment. In sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, the rate of women's operations is about 50% below that of men’s. A study in Egypt found that nearly a third of all women over 60 years are blind.

Disability often leads to isolation and violence

Visual impairments of women lead to isolation in society more often than with men. While 53% of men with disabilities still find employment, the rate for women is less than 20%.
“About a quarter of all girls with disabilities are exposed to sexual violence, whereas for girls without disabilities this rate is only 12%,” warns the ophthalmologist Bedri.

Background information

Trachoma is a disease of the poor countries
Trachoma is a contagious bacterial eye disease, which is transmitted by direct contact or by flies via lachrimal fluid and nasal secretion. The infection leads to the formation of scar tissue on the inside of the eyelids and eyelashes damage the cornea. This painful development can lead to total blindness. The disease was practically eradicated by better hygiene and medical care in Europe and North America in the 1920s, but is still widespread in Africa, Southeast Asia, Central and South America and also in the Middle East.

For further questions:

Franko Petri
Press Officer LIGHT FOR THE WORLD
Niederhofstraße 26, 1120 Vienna/Austria
Ph: +43/(0)1/810 13 00/34
Mobile: +43/(0)676/453 0503
Email: mailto:f.petri [at] light-for-the-world.org

Background LIGHT FOR THE WORLD

LIGHT FOR THE WORLD is an international organisation specialising in inclusive development. Our goal is an inclusive society that is open to all and leaves no one behind. Founded in Austria 28 years ago, LIGHT FOR THE WORLD started its journey by providing eye healthcare services for blindness prevention in Ethiopia and we now operate 181 programmes in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Southeast Europe which transform the lives of millions of inhabitants worldwide. We focus on prevention and accessible eye care and rehabilitation of blind persons and persons with other disabilities. In 2015 we supported 54,000 children with disabilities and conducted 100,000 eye operations. Last year, our projects reached more than 1.3 million people with disabilities in poor countries.

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