The World Health Organization (WHO) recently appealed for efforts to reduce the prevalence of visual impairment and avoidable blindness by 25 percent by 2019. Eighty percent of visual impairment around the world can be prevented or cured, the organization says.

The WHO celebrates World Sight Day every Oct. 8 as part of its Global Action Plan (GAP) to raise awareness. Together with the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, the WHO puts an emphasis on the advocacy of 'eye care for all.'

The GAP advocates [pdf] for a campaign called VISION 2020 that will educate communities regarding blindness prevention. Through the GAP, the WHO encourages governments to allocate funding for national blindness prevention programs.

Visual impairment and avoidable blindness have affected over 285 million people worldwide. Of that number, more than 39 million are blind and 246 million have moderate or severe visual impairment, reports the WHO. About 19 million children are reported to be visually impaired. Almost 90 percent of visually-impaired people live in developing countries. 

Visual impairment and blindness mostly affect the elderly. About 65 percent of all people who are visually impaired are aged 50 and older, but this age group comprises only 20 percent of the world's population. However, increasing elderly populations in many countries would result to more people being susceptible to age-related visual impairment.

"There is a need to review and reinforce existing measures so that nobody suffers visual impairment and those with unavoidable vision loss can still achieve their full potential," said Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO regional director.

Nearly over 50 percent of all blindness is caused by cataracts, which also account for 33 percent of visual impairment. Singh said that quality surgical procedures can aid cataract patients to get back to their normal lifestyle. Meanwhile, the number of people who become blind due to infectious causes has decreased in the past 20 years, she said.

Singh added that in terms of restorations of sight, the most cost-effective strategy is blindness prevention. She suggested that implementing simple measures such as eye care facilities in institutions and schools can correct refractive errors in children as soon as they are detected.

The WHO believes that the GAP will be fairly easy to realize, but only if public awareness and the cooperation of nations are successful.

Photo : United States Mission Geneva | Flickr

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