Blindness: 22% Indians can't afford cataract surgery

In absolute numbers, people suffering from blindness have reduced from 12 million in 2006-07 to 4.8 million in 2019. (DH Photo)

Nearly 22% Indians can't afford cataract surgery and 16% avoids the procedure out of fear though untreated cataract remains the biggest cause of blindness in India, says a new Health Ministry report.

Untreated cataract is the principal cause of blindness (66.2%) in India in middle aged men and women (between 50-90 years) besides causing severe visual impairment (80.7%), and moderate visual impairment (70.2%).

But financial constraints (22.1%), need for surgery not felt (18.4%) and fear of surgery (16.1%) remains the three common reasons for people not to go for the commonplace eye surgery.

Another crucial reason is not to have an escort to accompany the person requiring surgery to the eye care centre.

The survey looked at more than 93,000 patients from 31 districts (one each from every state) to found that 1.99% of Indian population is blind whereas the prevalence of severe and moderate visual impairment is nearly 2% and 10% respectively.

Other causes of blindness included corneal opacity (7.4%), cataract surgical complications (7.2%) and glaucoma (5.5%).

The report is released here on Thursday coinciding with the World Sight Day (Oct 10). “It is unacceptable that globally 65 million people are blind or have impaired sight when their vision could have been corrected overnight with a cataract operation or that over 800 million struggle in everyday activities because they lack access to a pair of glasses,” said World Health Organisation director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement.

A WHO report - first ever from the UN body on eye care – recognises the fact that India was successful in increasing its cataract surgery rate by almost nine-fold between 1981 and 2012. In 2016-17, the National Programme to Control Blindness provided cataract surgery to 6.5 million Indians achieving a cataract surgical rate of over 6000 per million population.

But there are still several critical issues like rural-urban and literate-illiterate gaps that need to be bridged for better blindness control.

A second Health Ministry report highlights diabetes and diabetic retinopathy as a significant risk factor leading to ocular morbidity.

Doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences who prepared the two reports estimated that the prevalence of sight threatening diabetic retinopathy is 3.6% among Indians aged 50 years and more. This is three times higher than the world average. Among the diabetics, the prevalence of blindness was 2.1% and visual impairment was 13.7%.

The WHO report says one billion plus people worldwide are living with vision impairment because they do not get the care they need for conditions like short and farsightedness, glaucoma and cataract.

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