A statewide study conducted in schools for visually impaired has revealed that causes of childhood blindness are changing as society makes socio-economic progress. The study was conducted by a team from H V Desai Eye Hospital’s team, said Dr Sucheta Kulkarni, principal investigator.
The hospital will hold a meeting on February 18 to discuss the findings of the research, sources said. The findings are likely to influence government policies on eyecare funding for children, sources added.
Col M Deshpande (chief medical director), H V Desai Eye Hospital, said, “It is an established fact that causes of blindness in children are proxy indicators of a country’s health system and economic progress. For example, unavoidable causes (such as blindness due to brain hypoxia) is common in western countries, while Vitamin A deficiency-related blindness is common in African countries.”
As many as 2,000 children enrolled in schools for visually impaired across Maharashtra were examined for the study in 2019. It found that whole globe anomaly (ill developed eye at birth) is the major cause of blindness (47 per cent) followed by corneal and retinal causes (15 per cent each) and cataract (7 per cent).
Visual impairment in every third child (32 per cent of children) was caused due to something that was preventable or could be treated.
Comparison of these findings with a previous similar study conducted by H V Desai Hospital 15 years ago showed that blindness due to Vitamin A deficiency was on the slide. This indicates the success of the government’s Vitamin A supplementation programme for pregnant mothers and children, but implies that the government needs to now tackle blindness due to retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), which is seen in premature babies, sources said.
There is a need to train more doctors to manage cataract and ROP in children and also to procure highly specialised equipment to manage these diseases, experts said.
At least 15 per cent of the children in the schools for visually impaired in Maharashtra were ‘not blind’ and could be helped with special devices (low vision devices) that could enhance their vision.
Experts said there is a need to increase awareness among society and teachers that all visually impaired children are not necessarily blind. Proper and timely examination by experts can help identify children who can see better with low vision devices. Unfortunately, such experts are located in big cities and needy children are often in remote rural areas, experts said.
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