World Sight Day: The Fight for Sight

World Sight Day – c.Orbis Flying Eye Hospital

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An estimated 284 million people the world over are visually impaired. In order to mark Thursday’s World Sight Day 2011, Sarah Marsh looks at the danger that sight-related diseases pose to some of the world’s poorest people. Sarah is a freelance writer currently studying MA Newspaper Journalism at City University.

People all over the world came together last Thursday in honour of World Sight Day. The day is held annually on the second Thursday of October to raise awareness for the blind and visually impaired.

Corporate supporters range from Liverpool FC to Specsavers, who are aiming to raise £62 million in the fight to eliminate trachoma completely.

Research into illnesses that lead to the loss of sight, particularly in developing countries, reveals a lot more needs to be done to ensure the right treatment reaches the right people.

Dr Geoffrey Tabin, co-founder and co-director of The Himalayan Cataract Project – a project that treats blind people in the poorest parts of the world – claims that “90 per cent of blindness in the developing world is easily preventable”.

The shocking reality is that you are ten times more likely to be blind if you live in some of the world’s poorest countries. The top causes of blindness are: cataracts, affecting 55% of those who lose their sight; trachoma, a condition spread by the common fly; and glaucoma, an eye infection that can appear out of the blue.

According to Dr Tabin all it takes to treat cataracts, in some cases, is wearing glasses with a corrective lens. By simply having an eye examination many sufferers of cataracts in the developing world would save their sight.

Trachoma is also preventable. It occurs when bacteria gets inside the eye through flies coming in contact with someone’s nose or eyes. This leads to repeated infections of conjunctivitis and severe scarring inside the eyelid. As a result, the lid turns inward and lashes rub against the eyeball damaging the cornea.

Glaucoma is another huge problem for the poor and vulnerable. It causes blindness when pressure builds up within the eye leading to sudden pain and blurred vision.

For people in the developing world blindness can be devastating. Studies have suggested a loss of sight in some of the poorest countries lowers your life expectancy by a third.

Not only that, but it is incredibly hard for a blind person in poorer parts of the world to earn a living.

Dr Tabin told Share International about how a person’s life changes once their sight is restored.

“It’s dramatic, particularly for older people. In Nepal, it used to be the accepted idea that a person gets old, their hair turns white, their eyes turn white and then they die”, he said.

“People looked at a blind person as a mouth with no arms: they can’t contribute to the family they can’t help, and people get very depressed. They shrivel up and there’s a huge depression that comes with going blind in the developing world. After sight restoration they come back to life”.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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