October 8 was world sight day and I am wondering how many of us heard about it and for those of us who heard about it, what kind of consideration we gave to it. The second Thursday in October every year has been set aside globally for awareness creation on blindness, visual impairment and the rehabilitation of the visually impaired. This year the theme for World Sight Day 2009 was “Gender and Eye Health – equal access to care”. The theme sought to highlight the fact that globally two-thirds of the people who are blind are women and girls.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), globally about 180 million people are visually impaired, of whom 45 million are blind with nearly two-thirds of people affected by vision loss being females. 80% of all cases of blindness could have been avoided with 20% being preventable and 60% being treatable.
Visual impairment is most prevalent in women and men 50 years and older. The majority of eye conditions for this age group, such as cataract, can be easily treated. However, women who form the majority of people with visual impairment do not benefit from this treatment as a result of inequal access to eye health care. In many places men have twice the access to eye care as women due to a number of reasons including accessibility in terms of cost and distance as well as lack of the power to take decisions affecting their own lives. However equal access to eye care for women and men could greatly reduce cases of visual impairment especially in developing countries.
It is ironic that in many parts of the world women do not have equal access to eye care despite the critical role they play in health care including eye health care. Women work as ophthalmologists, ophthalmic nurses, community workers, etc. Again at home it is usually women who carry the burden of care for family members who have lost their sight. In recognition of the role of women in eye care, the World Health Organization has pointed out the need to acknowledge the role of women in the prevention of blindness and visual impairment.
The causes of avoidable blindness are frequently associated with poverty and lack of access to quality eye care services. Avoidable blindness is more common amongst the poorest of the poor, women and marginalized populations. Data shows that 90% of the world's blind people live in developing countries and that people who live in the developing world are 5 to 10 times more likely to go blind than people who live in highly industrialized countries. Poverty therefore is a critical contributory factor to blindness.
Vision health could be maintained through improved access to health care, including regular, comprehensive dilated eye exams, which would facilitate early detection and treatment of eye diseases. Weight reduction is also a good strategy to prevent eye disease since obesity is a risk factor for diabetic eye disease.
It is therefore pertinent for women to take their health care into their own hands and seek regular medical care for all diseases that affect their lives especially their eyes. We all have a right to see this beautiful world.
Acting Grants Manager