WHO envisions way out of blindness via early intervention

Updated: 2011-10-14 08:41

By Shan Juan (China Daily)

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BEIJING - The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday that blindness could be avoided in eight out of 10 cases with appropriate treatment or early prevention worldwide.

And the situation here, as Chinese experts said, is quite similar, if not worse.

The WHO estimates that 246 million people have low vision and 39 million are blind, particularly in developing countries, according to a release issued by the organization on World Sight Day, held annually on the second Thursday of October.

In China, at least six million people are blind and nearly 70 percent of the cases are caused by cataracts, said Chen Youxin, deputy director of the ophthalmology department at Peking Union Medical College Hospital. "But actually most of the cataract cases can be fully cured by medical surgery," he said.

More than 80 percent of those who are blind, and another 12 million with low vision, can recover their eyesight after medical treatment, Chen said.

"Low awareness and strained economic conditions are mainly to blame for avoidable cases of blindness, and currently most of the blind people suffering from cataracts live in the underprivileged countryside," Chen said.

Similarly, WHO surveys indicate that 90 percent of people with blindness or low vision worldwide live in low-income countries.

Aside from the substantial impact that blindness or low vision has on a person's quality of life, there is also a strong economic impact, not only for the person affected but also for the family and community giving support, according to the WHO.

Reducing blindness alleviates household, community and national poverty and is linked to improving access to educational and employment opportunities, said the release.

Oculist Zhang Chun with the Peking University Third Hospital urged the government to enhance the medical capacity in eye disease diagnosis and treatment, particularly in rural areas.

Even today, some rural grassroots medical institutions can't perform cataract surgeries.

Meanwhile, education on eye health should be largely improved, given that China has seen a sharply rising epidemic of shortsightedness, experts suggest.