The number of children suffering from preventable blindness is increasing. Worldwide, about 19 million children under the age of 15 are blind, with 12 million of these cases preventable or treatable.
Approximately three-quarters of the world’s blind children live in the poorest regions of Africa and Asia, where specialist eye health practitioners are scarce. Research by the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness found there was a “critical shortage” of optometry professionals in sub-Saharan Africa.
“It’s not just about training optometrists or ophthalmologists, it’s about training primary health workers – and we’re talking about community workers, village health workers and teachers, who should be a part of any primary health workforce,” Brian Doolan, CEO of theFred Hollows Foundation, said.
The University of Cape Town’s Susan Levine, who conducted research for Orbis in Zambia, said: “Eye disease has taken a back seat to many infectious diseases in southern Africa, falling down the list of health priorities. But what bore out in our research is the extent to which diminished eyesight or blindness impacted people just as much, if not more, than some infectious diseases.” She continued, “From the perspective of the patients we spoke to, there is nothing more important than sight – it’s integral to education and their livelihoods. The emphasis on eye care and awareness of eye health is important to so many other facets of health.”