Cataracts are the main causes of blindness/visual impairment in developing countries. Other common problems include refractive errors, glaucoma and trachoma.
The vast majority of cases of blindness (over 80 per cent) can be treated effectively.
Unfortunately, millions of people remain blind because they do not have access to effective eye-care services. Four factors, in particular, limit access:
- Lack of awareness – In some contexts, rather than viewed as a curable, medical problem, blindness is considered untreatable, in some cases, even an act of God or fate. People are unaware that many eye conditions can be treated effectively.
- Lack of affordable care – Without subsidization or the free provision of service, treatment it is unaffordable for poor individuals, many of whom earn less than $2 a day.
- Poor quality services – Where public services may be available, they are often severely under-resourced. Surgical/treatment outcomes can be poor and corruption and bribery are commonplace.
- Absence of services – Many poor people live in areas where there are no eye care services. Blind and visually-impaired people are also very often dependent on others to gain access to treatment.
In general, in most developing countries, the Cataract Surgery Rate is less than 1000 per million per year (economically well-developed countries, by contrast, usually perform more than 6000 cataract operations per million population per year).
Eye-care provision is often only available to urban and relatively well-off communities. Poor and rural communities have no access to eye-care services.
Where relatively affordable services do exist, they are usually provided by the government but often of poor quality.
Although a number of other NGOs may offer affordable eye-care services, relatively few offer permanent eye-care facilities, and there are none in the target locations proposed by The Ruit Foundation.
Poor eye health has a detrimental effect on mortality, quality of life, and a person’s economic situation. Blind and visually impaired people are more susceptible to mental health conditions (e.g. depression, anxiety, low self-esteem) and other physical ailments (e.g. high blood pressure, malnutrition). The life expectancy of a blind person is 1/3 that of their sighted peers and most blind people die within 10 years of becoming blind.
Blindness and visual impairment also have knock-on effects on the well-being of affected individuals’ families and communities. Caring for a blind person can place a large burden on family members’ economic and emotional resources. If the person required to care for the blind person is a family member, affected households are forced to live without the income of the two individuals. This exposes households to a greater risk of becoming poor or sinking deeper into poverty. Where children serving the role of carers, they may be deprived of an education and subsequently face a greater challenge in escaping poverty as an adult.