October is World Blindness Awareness Month, an initiative started to help the public to understand the realities of visual impairment and how it affects the world population.
Unfortunately, there are hundreds of millions of individuals around the world who are unnecessarily blind or visually impaired due to causes that are preventable and treatable. Much of this is due to lack of access to proper healthcare and education. Today’s research shows that the leading causes of blindness and moderate and severe vision impairment (MSVI) are uncorrected refractive error, cataracts, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma and other retinal diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa.
While steps are being taken to increase education and access to eye care in populations that are known to be lacking, vision impairment is expected to increase threefold by 2050 due to aging and an increase in myopia and diabetic retinopathy.
Here are some facts about blindness and MSVI:
- 36 million people worldwide are blind
- 217 million are categorized as MSVI
- 253 million are visually impaired
- 1.1 million people have near vision impairment that could be fixed with eyeglasses
- 55% of visually impaired people are women
- 89% of visually impaired people live in low or middle-income countries
- 75% of vision impairment is avoidable
- 81% of people who are blind or have MSVI are aged 50 years or over
- Almost half of all students in Africa’s schools for the blind would be able to see if they had a pair of glasses.
What can we do?
To help combat global blindness and vision impairment, we first have to be educated. Learn about proper eye health and eye care and educate your children, family and friends. Implement that knowledge into your life with preventative eye care and regular eye doctor visits. Fighting blindness starts at home.
Next, consider donating your old eyewear. Eyewear donations can be extremely valuable to underdeveloped countries. Most eye doctors accept donations of old eyewear and give them to organizations like the Lions Club or VOSH (Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity) that do humanitarian missions to other countries and provide eyecare and eyewear. Old glasses that we take for granted here or that are gathering dust in a drawer somewhere can be life changing for someone in a poor or underdeveloped country.
As a volunteer for VOSH, in my trips to Dominica, I have seen first-hand how just a pair of used glasses can help turn a person's life around; allowing them to work or drive again, or just to be able to enjoy life with better eyesight.
In addition, there are a number of organizations that assist the world population in preventing blindness and providing education and eye care to underprivileged societies. You can help fight blindness and MSVI by supporting these causes and the many others out there doing humanitarian work in this field. Here are a few examples:
- Optometry Giving Sight: www.givingsight.org
- Eye Care 4 Kids: eyecare4kids.org
- Sightsavers: www.sightsavers.org
- See International: www.seeintl.org
Through support, research, education and outreach, we hope to stop the rapid pace of increasing unnecessary blindness around the world. So spread the word. When we all come together, we can accomplish our goals!