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DNA India
14 October 2010
By Arun Dev
Bangalore, India

Not many Indians know that 80% of diseases leading to blindness are either preventable or curable. No wonder, doctors say that India is the blindness capital of the world. As we celebrate World Sight Day today, the solution to blindness lies with spreading awareness, say city doctors.

The lack of awareness and lethargic attitude of people has resulted in such a scenario in the country, they say. While the blindness rate across the world is about 0.3%, in India it is 1.1%. However, according to doctors, about 80% of the diseases that lead to blindness are curable or preventable.

This World Sight Day, along with advocating prevention of blindness, will also promote "Vision 2020: The Right to Sight", a global effort by World Health Organisation and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness.

"Restoration of sight and blindness prevention strategies are among the most cost-effective interventions in healthcare. But how much have we succeeded in taking it to the people?" asks Dr Bhujang Shetty, managing director, Narayana Netralaya.

Although the number of cases of blindness is evenly distributed among the urban and rural population, much of the rural population is yet to make use of technology available to treat diseases. "The facility to perform an eye surgery is not available in rural areas. We are witnessing new technological developments in the area. It is high time we reach both the urban and rural population equally," said Dr Shetty.

Infectious causes of blindness are decreasing the world over as a result of public health interventions and socio-economic development. Blinding trachoma today affects fewer than 80 million people as compared to the 360 million in 1985. "However, considering the technological development in the field of medicine, the numbers are still high," said Dr Rakesh Srivasthava of Rohan Eye Clinics.

The number of blind people worldwide has been projected to increase to 76 million by 2020. "A big ageing population and lifestyle changes mean that chronic blinding conditions such as diabetic retinopathy are projected to rise exponentially. Without effective major intervention, this problem will continue to prevail," said Dr Srivasthava.

What is the solution then, we ask? Educating masses about the availability of medical facilities to treat and prevent blindness and awareness campaigns is the way out, says Dr Balakrishna Shetty, chairman of Devi Eye Hospital. "We need to spread awareness through educative films and the media. People should also talk about it with their families. Many more eye screening camps should be held," he said.

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