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Majority of blind are women, children: WHO

Today is World Sight Day; The theme this year is Gender and Eye Care

DID you know that two thirds of the blind population in the world are women and children? The World Health Organisation (WHO), along with VISION 20/20 by 2020 (a collaboration of various NGOs worldwide working on eye care) has projected 64 per cent of the blind people as women and children. Hence, this year’s theme for World Sight Day, which is observed on October 8 is ”Gender and Eye-care.”

Confirming the shocking statistics, Consultant ophthalmologist at Sankara Eye Care Institutions Dr Kaushik said, “The WHO has attributed three reasons for this.

Firstly, life expectancy of women is longer, thus they have more age-related sight problems. Secondly, studies in Asia and Africa show that men have twice more access to eye care than women. And thirdly, literacy among women is about 20 per cent less than men. When there is low literacy, there is low awareness about health issues.” Although, there was no concrete data about this in relation to India, it was expected to be on same lines.

Health neglected  
Agreeing with him, Dr G Venkata Subramaniam of Rangalakshmi Nethralaya, said that women constituted only 30 per cent of the patients who came to him.
 “The main reason for this is that women tend to neglect their health problems. In some cases husbands don’t encourage their wives to get their eyes tested,” he said. Eventhough patients come for  preliminary examination, only a few seek follow-up treatment. 

However, the situation is not that grim. Dr Kaushik said that more women are now coming forward for various eye-related surgeries and the male-female ratio are nearly equal. “In our hospital we have around 40 per cent women with various sight problems. The common problems we get to address are refractive error, cataract, diabetic eye diseases and glaucoma,” he revealed.

According to Dr Sandhya from Minto Ophthalmic Hospital, many women are now seeking check-ups and surgeries at screening camps organised in rural areas. The hospital regularly holds camps in Bangalore rural and Ramanagara. In the hospitals, however, it is the men who seek treatment.  

Catching them young!
In pediatric eye care, Dr Sandhya said that although the hospital was holding many awareness camps and training teachers to identify students with eye problems, less than 5 per cent came back for follow up treatment. Despite this, the hospital has done well in filtering students with eye problems – the most common being refractive errors. 

Dr Chinmayee, the senior resident of the hospital said, “The total target for screening school students was 9, 52,881 for the State for the year 2008-09. However, we managed to screen 20,51,441 students, which is a 215 per cent achievement.” 

Even Dr Kaushik, Director of the pediatric project Nanna Kannu that was launched in July, this year, said that the annual target they have set for screening school children is 80,000 for the next three years. 

“We give the list of students with eye problems to the headmaster suggesting further treatment. If the children don’t come, our field workers contact them and bring them to us. Thus, the chances of a child going untreated is curtailed,” he explained. 

(Published in Deccan Herald on 7th October, 2009)

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