Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Public awareness can help prevent blindness and other eye diseases in India

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Eyes are the window to the world, allowing us to see the many wonders around us and enjoy life. But often, we take them and their function for granted-people, in general, tend to disregard their eye health and the problems associated with it. Eye diseases are on the rise around the world, including in India. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at least 2.2 billion people worldwide have a near or distance vision impairment. The WHO also states that visual impairment could have been avoided in at least one billion of these cases if the patient had received proper diagnosis and treatment.

Due to a hectic lifestyle, cases of vision loss are on the rise in India. According to a large scale study, which included data from 14.5 lakh patients, the number of cases of dry eye disease increased to 21,000 in 2019. It states that India is on the verge of a dry eye disease epidemic. By 2030, it will affect approximately 40% of the urban population.

Although the findings are concerning, they are unsurprising given that several international studies have concluded that Indians are at a high risk of diabetes and glaucoma-related vision problems, including total blindness. To keep the numbers from rising, it is critical that public education on eye health issues be prioritized at all levels. Moreover, eye disorders worsen as people get older. Occurrences that seem simple to us such as unaddressed blurred vision, an unattended eye injury, can lead to irreversible vision loss. But, on a positive note, simple and timely interventions can help address the issues in no time and restore one’s vision. In this context, large public awareness initiatives for early detection and treatment are critical.

Physical and social impact of eye diseases

Blindness and vision impairment has a significant impact on an individual’s quality of life. It also affects their educational and employment opportunities. This burden can be greatly reduced by enhancing people’s knowledge and awareness of common eye diseases, allowing them to seek timely eye care. For this, one of the initiatives we can take is to create information and education regarding eye diseases that can be integrated into the school curriculum. At the University level, students in public health can be encouraged to organize eye care awareness camps for the public. This will also aid in a better understanding of the problem and decision making for eye care in the future. To fortify our efforts in generating public awareness on quality eye care, we can initiate Knowledge Attitude and Practise Studies on blindness, create IECs around them and have a strong dissemination plan. NGOs like Orbis are already working to support their partners across India to ensure that quality eye care is delivered to the community and, more importantly, to the children of the country.

Preventing eye diseases through public health policy

Preventable blindness is a critical component of our public health policy. In order to address the country’s untreated eye conditions, the WHO and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) collaborated with the Indian government to develop VISION 2020: Right to Sight-INDIA. It was founded in 2004 as a parallel NGO confederation to the international body. It aids in the development of state-level plans and programmes, which are led by the state government with extensive input from local and international NGOs. With the active participation of the Government of India, it also organizes World Sight Day, Eye Donation Fortnight, and other events. 

The Way Forward

We are aware of prevalent eye diseases, but we become short-sighted when it comes to critical information that can aid in early detection and treatment. Glaucoma, diabetic eye disease, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), refractive errors, low vision, all require urgent public education. Children, middle-aged individuals caring for elderly parents, and older persons are some specific groups that could be targeted for educational activities to raise awareness on eye health, simple signs and symptoms of eye disorders and actions to take once they identify the symptoms to receive swift treatment and best results. Increased patient understanding of common eye diseases and treatments may lead to a greater appreciation of the value of routine eye exams in the early detection and treatment of many eye problems.

The author is the Country Director at Orbis India.

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