Saturday, April 4, 2009

Coordinated effort needed to fight blindness

A major coordinated effort is needed to tackle the underlying causes of blindness in children, particularly in poorer and underdeveloped regions where the needs are greatest, according to a leading expert in the field.

Prof Clare Gilbert, International Centre for Eye Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told delegates attending the MEACO Congress that blindness in children is a major, lifelong problem in every part of the world, impacting not just the affected children, but also their families, their communities and countries.

“It is the greatest problem where resources are least,” said Dr Gilbert, who said that WHO statistics show that there are about 1.4 million blind children in the world.

“When we consider that the total figure for adult blindness is 45 million, this figure looks like a very small number. But one has to bear in mind that these children have a lifetime of blindness ahead of them.”

Dr Gilbert said that successive studies have demonstrated the clear link between childhood blindness and poverty.

“More than 70 per cent of these blind children live in poor and very poor countries and there are two principal reasons for this: first, the population of children in poorer regions is much higher, and secondly, the prevalence of blindness in children in these countries is also much higher,” she said.

She noted that the available evidence seems to suggest that the majority of these 1.4million children are either born blind or become blind before six years of age.

“This tells us that in terms of controlling childhood blindness that we really need to focus our efforts and resources on children aged zero to five,” she said.

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