Children are becoming more prone to childhood blindness every year, even as the need for cataract surgeries amongst adults is declining in Maharashtra. Experts blame change in lifestyles and addiction to mobile phones at an early age for the rise in eye problems.
According to the National Programme for Control of Blindness (NPCB) data, in 2013-14 the number of children with refractive errors stood at 81,690 which further rose to 82,029 the next year and 95,745 in 2015-16. On the other hand, the need for cataract surgeries for adults decreased from 8.09 to 8.08 lakh from 2013-14 to 2014-15 and fell to 7.06 lakh in 2015-16 due to better screenings and camp surgeries on priority bases.
More children, especially across rural areas, not only need spectacles — the rise noted from 2014 until now is 39 per cent — but a significant jump has been recorded in cataract surgeries, glaucoma and intraocular trauma as well amongst them.
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From 196 surgeries in 2014-15, cataract cases rose to 1,660 in 2015-16 amongst children. Childhood glaucoma cases increased from 89 to 126 in the same period. Significant cases of intraocular trauma — injury to eyeball — were also diagnosed through health camps in children. According to the Directorate of Health Services, such cases rose from 158 to 628 from 2014-15 to 2015-16.
“The diagnostic tools have improved and better screening is helping find more cases amongst children,” said Dr Arun Virdhe, nodal officer of NPCB in Maharashtra.
The increase in cataract detection is also due to behavioural changes amongst children and parents, according to Dr Ragini Parekh, head of ophthalmology at JJ hospital which receives cataract patients from across the state. “Nowadays, we observe that parents give their mobile phones to children to play games and keep themselves occupied. The constant exposure to screens has led to several eye problems,” she said.
India is also one of the few countries where exposure to ultraviolet rays is higher. “This also leads to formation of early cataracts. Direct exposure to UV rays can affect eyes. In children, cataract can also be congenital but that is an extremely small percentage,” said district program manager of NPCB, Dr Prasanna Deshmukh.