As many as 8.8 million people in India were found to be blind in 2015 and another 47.7 million people had moderate and severe vision impairment, according to a study published online by The Lancet Global Health journal on August 2. Worldwide, there are an estimated 36 million people who are blind and this is set to grow to almost 115 million people by 2050, with the highest number in developing countries in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, according to the study.
Although rates of blindness and vision impairment have gone down in recent years, the number of cases has risen as the world population has aged, said professor Rupert Bourne of the Anglia Ruskin University in the UK who is the lead author of the study. Between 1990 and 2015, the absolute number of blind people increased by 17.9 per cent.
In India, there were 7.2 million blind people in 1990, which rose to 8.8 million in 2015, making the country the home of almost a quarter of the total 36 million blind people. The Lancet study was funded by the Brien Holden Vision Institute and included researchers from Anglia Ruskin University, University of Oxford, L V Prasad Eye Institute in India and others. The study also suggested that prevalence rates could see an upturn by 2020 up to 0.50 per cent rise for blindness and 3.06 per cent for vision impairment.
The areas most affected are developing regions. For example, 11.7 million people who are blind lived in south Asia in 2015. Dr G V S Murthy, the director of Hyderabad-based Indian Institute of Public Health and professor at the International Centre for Eye Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the number of people above 50 years had increased by 13 per cent in India and despite a decline in the prevalence of blindness from 1 per cent to 0.6 per cent in the country, “we still have a large number of blind people”.
Professor Rohit Khanna, the associate director of the L V Prasad Eye Institute, said that with most vision impairment being a result of ageing as the population continues to grow and age, the number of people affected has increased globally. Other key researchers include professor Vinay Nangia, the director of the Suraj Eye Institute, Nagpur, and Dr Ronnie George of the Medical Research Foundation in Chennai.
The same trend is true for India. “While one million eye related surgeries were done in the 90s, across the country the number has shot up to six to seven million,” he said.