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The link between poverty and blindness (Facts & Figures) 1.3.2022

Visual impairment and blindness are one of the most common challenges that developing countries face as they seek to eliminate poverty from their communities. That 90% of all blind people live in the world’s poorest countries is an indicator of the way that needless blindness inhibits social and economic improvement. A recent report published by the Unite For Sight Foundation is unequivocal in its conclusion: poverty exacerbates blindness and blindness exacerbates poverty.

Sufferers of impaired and lost vision in countries such as India and many of the emerging African nations are typically at a higher risk of staying blind even when they could be cured, due to the lack of resources and limited access to health facilities. There is also a higher incidence of illnesses and diseases within those communities that can lead to total blindness, which compounds the challenge. Even though there have been noticeable achievements in the expansion of eye care facilities and services during the past decade, it remains a major global health challenge.
Data collected between 2001 and 2004, at the Pakistan Institute of Community Ophthalmology in Peshawar, Pakistan, and also in the United Kingdom, looked at the link between blindness, access to eye care services and poverty. In Pakistan, over 16,500 adults were examined in the urban and rural clusters and over 560 patients were found to suffer from complete blindness, which is a very high incidence by international standards.

Another study in Mozambique sought to understand the difference between blindness above and below the poverty line and to find empirical evidence between the two. Half of the participants in the study who were blind or had some form of vision impairment were found to be living below the poverty line, as well as those who had no formal education or who lived in rural areas with no services.

Studies such as these highlight the need for an increase in preventative eye health care services and treatment infrastructure within these lower-income countries; and moreover the World Health Organization cites four clear factors that contribute to needless blindness within these communities:

- Socioeconomic factors like poverty

- Disability and reduced and/or loss of earning power

Limited access to healthcare services

- Economic deprivation

Many global health challenges have become cause célèbre that attract funding as well as the high-profile support of celebrities and Governments. Yet despite its pervasive social and economic impact, blindness is not amongst them. There are some organizations who are seeking to lead the fight against blindness that occurs due to poverty. Amongst them is Tej Kohli fighting blindness at his Tej Kohli Foundation and as co-Founder of the Tej Kohli And Ruit Foundation. Another is the Layton Rahmatulla Benevolent Trust, which is campaigning for better eye care in Pakistan. Whilst organizations such as these are helping to provide efficient eye care services to those who cannot afford it, the size of the problem requires coordinated international action on a far grander scale.