Avoidable Blindness

Around the world, an estimated 253 million people live with visual impairment.
A startling 89 percent of them live in developing countries.

In Canada and other developed nations, there’s help for people struggling with vision problems; if you have inoperable blindness, you can lead a meaningful life. But in developing countries, where health care is scarce or unaffordable, losing your sight is far more disastrous than simply not being able to see.

Loss of sight can have devastating consequences on individuals, families, communities and entire countries.

Why is blindness so prevalent in developing countries? There are many causes, including poverty, inadequate access to clean water and malnutrition. In parts of the world where it’s a struggle to simply survive, many people have neither a healthy living environment nor access to affordable medical care. If living conditions threaten sight, it’s often impossible to prevent or treat vision loss. People who live in India, Africa and South America are five to 10 times more likely to go blind than those living in developed countries.

There is good news: an astonishing 80 percent of blindness can be prevented or cured. This is what is known as “avoidable blindness.” With your generous support, we can end avoidable blindness!

Causes of Avoidable Blindness

Cataracts_AB

A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye. The lens is located near the front of the eye and it focuses on the retina, at the back of the eye, to form the image we see. A cataract may affect just a small part of the lens, or it may cloud the entire lens. Although not preventable, cataracts are treatable with a straightforward and inexpensive surgical procedure.

Cataracts remain the leading cause of blindness around the world, except for in developed countries such as Canada. Cataracts account for a quarter of all visual impairment, affecting 65 million people.

There are many types of cataracts. Most are caused by a change in the chemical makeup of the lens. Certain medications (such as steroids), genetics, eye injuries or certain diseases can also cause cataracts.

  • Age-related cataracts are the most common, and they may occur as early as age 40.
  • Congenital cataracts appear in babies at birth. They may have been inherited or precipitated by a medical condition in the child’s mother.
  • Traumatic cataracts can occur in people of any age. This type of cataract is caused by an injury to the eye – such as a hard blow, puncture, intense heat or chemical burns – which damages the lens.
  • Certain diseases such as diabetes can also cause cataracts at an early age.

Operation Eyesight was founded in response to the need to treat cataracts, at what is today Arogyavaram Eye Hospital in Sompeta, India. We’ve been working there since 1963 and have made a great impact, thanks to people like you.

Low Vision

Low vision due to refractive error is the most common form of visual impairment. For people who cannot afford the services of an optometrist, being able to see poorly is almost as bad as not being able to see at all.

“Normal” vision is the ability to comfortably see what is around you, whether far away or near, without glasses. It’s often known as “20/20” vision, which means that the eye being tested is able to see at 20 feet what an eye with good vision can see at that distance. If you have 20/60 vision, you can see at 20 feet what a person with good vision can see at 60 feet. A change in vision between 20/60 and 20/200 is considered having low vision.

Low vision is fully correctable with surgery, contact lenses or eyeglasses. People with low vision typically have some functionally useful sight, but their ability to carry on everyday activities is hampered.

We are working with local partner organizations in India and Africa to bring diagnosis and optical services to people with low vision, at little or no cost to them.

Trachoma

Trachoma is a bacterial infection and a leading cause of blindness in areas with shortages of water and crowded living conditions. The bacteria spreads easily through contact with eye discharge from infected people on hands and clothing, and also through direct transmission by flies.

Children are especially susceptible to trachoma; infection often begins during infancy and can become chronic. Left untreated, the eyelid eventually turns inward, causing the eyelashes to rub the eyeball, resulting in intense pain and scarring of the cornea. This leads to irreversible blindness, typically between 30 and 40 years of age.

Because of their close daily contact with children, women are three times more likely than men to suffer the late blinding stage of trachoma, called trichiasis.

According to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, trachoma accounts for about 1% percent of global blindness. It was once endemic around the world, but has disappeared in industrialized nations. It still thrives in many of the poorest areas of Africa, Asia, Central and South America, and parts of the Middle East, wherever people lack access to clean water and proper sanitation.

Operation Eyesight follows the World Health Organization-endorsed SAFE strategy for eliminating trachoma. SAFE is a comprehensive treatment and prevention program that includes:

  • Surgery to treat trichiasis (the painful late stage of the disease)
  • Antibiotics to eliminate infection
  • Face washing and hygiene education
  • Environmental improvement including wells and latrines

Properly implemented, the SAFE strategy permanently eliminates trachoma. Because of the emphasis on clean water and sanitation, it also dramatically improves the general health and prosperity of whole communities. Read about how Operation Eyesight is using the SAFE strategy to eliminate trachoma in places like Kenya’s Narok District.

Eye Cancer

Ocular cancer is a relatively minor cause of blindness but some kinds, like retinoblastoma, can be fatal. In India alone, retinoblastoma accounts for about three percent of all cancers affecting children under the age of five. There are about 5,000 new cases of retinoblastoma reported every year.

Timely treatment of this cancer can save the lives of 95 percent of the children suffering from this disease. In 75 percent of the cases, a child’s vision can be saved. Early screening and treatment are essential.

There are only a few hospitals around the world that specialize in treating the entire range of ophthalmic tumours in both children and adults, and also provide training, research and capacity building. With the help of our generous donors, Operation Eyesight opened one of these world-class facilities in India in 2015.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetes increases the risk factors for a number of eye diseases, and one of them, diabetic retinopathy (DR), is a significant cause of blindness worldwide. Like glaucoma, DR often doesn’t cause irreversible vision loss until its later stages. High blood sugar levels from diabetes eventually damage the blood vessels of the retina.

The World Health Organization (WHO) calls diabetes a global epidemic, and predicts that by 2030, 552 million adults around the world will have either Type 1 or 2 of this disease. The WHO reports almost 35 percent of diabetics currently suffer from some level of retinopathy, and 7 percent of those have their vision threatened.

The International Diabetes Federation says, “While DR is not currently the primary cause of avoidable blindness, it has the capacity to become the leading cause of blindness in the next 20 years and it will affect the poorest people most – already 80 percent of people with diabetes live in low-middle income countries.”

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is an eye disease caused by increased pressure within the eye, and it can develop at any age. People with glaucoma usually lose their sight because increased pressure in the eye and other factors (poor blood flow) affect the optic nerve at the back of the eye. The eye slowly loses nerve function and side (peripheral) vision. This occurs painlessly, even unnoticeably.

Although glaucoma can be treated and sight often maintained (if diagnosed in time), an estimated 7 million people are blind because of it, accounting for 2.8 percent of global visual impairment.

Operation Eyesight works with local medical professionals in developing countries to support comprehensive eye care that includes diagnosis and surgical treatment of glaucoma. By constructing facilities, providing equipment and supporting medical personnel at existing facilities, Operation Eyesight helps prevent and treat glaucoma.

Other Causes of Avoidable Blindness

There are many other causes of avoidable blindness, including Onchocerciasis (River Blindness), Age-Related Macular Degeneration, and childhood blindness (such as vitamin A deficiency).

  • Onchocerciasis (River Blindness) is an insect-borne disease found in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. Although it remains a serious problem and has caused an estimated half million cases of blindness, global initiatives have succeeded in dramatically controlling the incidence of the infection.
  • Age-Related Macular Degeneration affects many older people and ranks as the third most common cause of blindness. Although risk factors include tobacco use, sunlight exposure and genetic tendencies, age is the main cause. While there is no cure, treatments can slow the progress of the disease.
  • Childhood blindness refers to a variety of diseases and conditions that occur in young children that can lead to blindness. These vary from region to region, with a main cause being vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which is primarily found in developing countries. Vitamin A supplementation is a simple and cheap method of preventing blindness from VAD.

These are just a few of the causes of blindness. To see how you can help Operation Eyesight prevent blindness, click here.