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Poverty is the main cause of blindness and other eye-related ailments among Pakistani adults, according to a report published in the British Medical Journal last month (17 December).

Blindness and visual impairment are more common in developing countries than in industrialised countries — the prevalence of blindness is 3–4 times higher in low income countries. But information on its specific associations with poverty is limited.

Using data collected between 2001 and 2004, researchers from the Pakistan Institute of Community Ophthalmology in Peshawar, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom looked at the links between blindness, access to eye care services and poverty in Pakistan.

 

A total of 16,507 adults were examined from both rural and urban clusters designated affluent, medium or poor. The survey identified 561 blind participants, and revealed that the occurrence of total blindness was more than three times higher in poor clusters.

The prevalence of blindness caused by cataract, glaucoma and corneal opacity was lower in affluent households. The numbers of cataract surgeries were also highest in affluent areas, reflecting better access to eye care services. But there were drastically less surgeries performed on participants from poorer households.

M Zahid Jadoon, one of the authors of the study and a fellow of the Pakistan Institute of Community Ophthalmology, says cataract is the main cause of blindness in Pakistan. "We are working to set up an intraocular lens bank and developing eye drops and regular treatment mechanisms under a comprehensive eye care programme in Pakistan," he told SciDev.Net.

"It is still unclear what causes cataract, but poverty plays a definite role in blindness," says Sharif Lillah, executive director of the Layton Rahmatulla Benevolent Trust, a nongovernmental organisation campaigning for better eyecare in Pakistan.

Additionally, the study found that number of people wearing spectacles in affluent areas was double that in poorer areas — around ten per cent compared to just 4.4 per cent.

Link to full paper in British Medical Journal

Reference: BMJ doi 10.1136/bmj.39395.500046.AE (2007)

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