39 million people worldwide are blind. Another 246 million people live with moderate or severe visual impairments. Causes of blindness, still widely unknown 100 years ago, have since been discovered and demystified. Still, tens of thousands of children lose their eyesight due to malnutrition and starvation every year, despite highly effective means of prevention and treatment.
It is the stuff of great stories. It was as early as 1931 that Charlie Chaplin dealt with the topic in his tragicomedy “City Lights”. A tramp falls in love with a blind flower girl from a poor home whose biggest wish is to be able to see. Finally he can help her to gain eyesight.
Charlie Chaplin fictitiously anticipated what is now standard across the globe. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cataract surgery is one of the most cost-efficient and most effective treatment methods. Moreover, it is the most frequently performed surgery in industrialised countries. 46.000 cataract surgeries are made possible with the help of the specialised aid organisation ‘Light for the World’ in developing countries, where every second blind person suffers from cataract and could regain their eyesight by means of a 15 minute operation, even after years of blindness. However, there is a lack of specialised hospitals, eye specialists and medication. This is where ‘Light for the World’ comes in to sustainably improve the situation of visually impaired and blind people. “We devote ourselves to the training of local eye specialists and ophthalmic nurses, as well as the construction of eye clinics and basic health institutions for early diagnosis and treatment of eye disorders,” says Rupert Roniger, Managing Director of ‘Light for the World’ in Austria. At the moment, the construction of an eye clinic including a training centre in the city of Beira in Mozambique is at the top of their agenda.
Early diagnosis of eye disorders is particularly crucial for children in developing countries, where it can save lives. According to WHO statistics, two thirds of blind children die within two years following their loss of eyesight. Malnutrition, in combination with infectious diseases, deprives tens of thousands of infants and small children in Sub-Saharan Africa of sufficient vitamin A, leading to irreversible loss of eyesight. A humanitarian catastrophe is going unnoticed, even today. Local partners of ‘Light for the World’ supply hundreds of thousands of children with high dosage vitamin A supplements, and thus save these children’s lives. “Every hunger catastrophe in Africa entails a large wake of blindness. Water shortage and starvation cause blindness especially in women and children. That is why our development aid programmes are planned to run for many years in order to absorb also the long-term effects of humanitarian catastrophes,” says Roniger.
Research shows that every dollar spent on eye health has a two-fold return on investment – in developing countries, home to 90% of all visual impaired, there is a four-fold return. The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) and its members and partners recognise that governments play a key role to ensuring access to quality eye health services and eliminating avoidable blindness.
The worldwide causes for blindness have mostly been discovered and demystified, and possibilities of treatment are highly developed and effective. 80% of all cases of blindness in developing countries could be treated or prevented. ‘Light for the World’ calls attention to this to mark World Sight Day on October 10th, 2013.
Internet: www.light-for-the-world.org * www.iapb.org