The prevalence of blindness and vision amongst the people aged 50 and above in Pakistan has reduced remarkably as the fresh data shows this ratio has come down to only two per cent against the seven per cent recorded in 2004, reveals the Third National Survey of Blindness conducted by the Federal Ministry of Health.
“About 44,800 individuals aged 50 and above were included in the survey conducted in 16 different districts (2,800 individuals from each district) randomly selected from all provinces and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. The age and sex adjusted prevalence of blindness was 2.02 per cent with higher prevalence amongst females as compared to males i.e. 2.07 and 1.98 respectively,” disclosed Prof. Asad Aslam Khan (Sitara-e-Imtiaz), National Coordinator, Prevention of Blindness Programme Pakistan, and Chairman National Committee for Eye Health, while announcing results of the survey, conducted from 2019-21, at a ceremony held in Islamabad on Tuesday. He said that objective of the survey was to estimate the prevalence of blindness and vision impairment amongst people 50 and above and to identify major causes of blindness and vision impairment in this population as 80 per cent of all blindness occurs amongst people age 50 and above. According to the survey, there are 9,028,073 people in Pakistan who have any degree of vision impairment from mild to blind. Out of these 484,027 are blind as against the 1.5 million blind as per the 2004 survey). The blindness due to cataract is reduced from 55% of the total blindness to 49%. Dr Shazia Somroo, Parliamentary Secretary Health and Dr Shabana Saleem, Director General Ministry of Health, amongst representatives of NGOs, INGOs and other stakeholders were present at the ceremony. Prof. Asad Aslam, who is also Professor Emeritus, College of Ophthalmology and Allied Vision Sciences, said that the survey has linked blindness to untreated contract (49 per cent), glaucoma, corneal opacity, uncorrected Aphakia, Macular Degeneration and Diabetic retinopathy while the main cause of vision impairment was refractive error (11.9%). Based on the results of the 2nd Survey 2004, the National Committee for Eye Health (NCEH), Federal Health Ministry, prepared and executed two five-year National Plans for prevention of blindness in collaboration INGOs (Sightsavers International UK, CBM Germany, Fred Hollows Foundation Australia, Brien Holden Foundation Australia), Aids to Leprosy, WHO, national NGOs (Alshifa Trust, LRBT, Al Ibrahim and Taxila hospital) and International Agency for prevention of blindness (IAPB).
On this occasion the representatives of Sightsavers (Munazza Gillani), FHF (Farooq Awan), BHF (Khalid Khan) and CBM (Syed Ali Shah), applauded the joint efforts of all partners both in public and private sector for leveraging their efforts towards reduction of blindness significantly in Pakistan. The blindness and vision impairment pose an enormous global financial burden with the annual global costs of productivity losses. From uncorrected refractive errors alone the loss is estimated to be US$ 270 billion. The majority of people with vision impairment and blindness are over the age of 50 years; however, the vision loss can affect people of all age groups. Since 2004 till 2020, through the efforts of NCEH, the College of Ophthalmology at Mayo Hospital Lahore was established, Eye Departments of 32 Teaching, 122 DHQ and more than 150 THQ hospitals were established across the country. The NCEH has also conducted the Cataract Surgical Mapping in the country which has revealed current Cataract Surgical Rate (CSR) of 5380, bringing Pakistan at number 12 globally and number 1 amongst the countries of Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR) of WHO. In her remarks on the occasion, Dr Shazia Somroo said that results of the third survey are very encouraging that the prevalence of blindness and vision impairment is on the decline in Pakistan. She linked these positive results to the effective public-private partnership. The parliamentary secretary assured that the government would put in more efforts to bring the prevalence of blindness and vision impairment to zero per cent in coming years. While addressing the ceremony, Dr Shabana Saleem, Director General Ministry of Health, also said that blindness and vision impairment needs more serious efforts on the part of all stakeholders and assured that their ministry would conduct more surveys in future for assessments. She said that the successful and fruitful collaboration between NGOs, INGOs and NCEH was the key in achieving such great success.