Diseases not just affect the individuals, but also jeopardizes a country's economy. According to a recent report by Orbis India, India loses about USD 118 billion every year in cumulative gross national income (GNI) due to childhood blindness.
Health experts estimate that India has about 9.3 million visually impaired and 2,70,000 blind children, most of which are preventable or treatable. The Orbis India report titled "Cost-Benefit Analysis of Investing in Child Eye Health" also stated that 35 per cent of blindness in children is preventable and treatable.
To understand the causes of Childhood Blindness and how it can be prevented, we connected with Dr Nita Shah, Head Clinical Services, Dr Agarwal Eye Hospital, Mumbai. Excerpts follow:
Childhood blindness can result from cataracts at birth or early childhood, Congenital corneal opacities, corneal scars post corneal infections, trauma and vitamin A deficiency, congenital glaucoma, abnormalities in the eye structure at birth, advanced retinopathy of prematurity, retinal dystrophies, lazy eye, shaking of eyes noted at birth, uncorrected high spectacle powers, ocular cancers like Retinoblastoma, and rare conditions like congenital absence of eye.
Why there is such a high number of childhood blindness cases in India?
Not getting a routine eye examination for children leaves many eye diseases undetected at a treatable stage. Relatively poor socio-economic background prevents early access to good quality healthcare and increases chance of poor hygienic conditions. High incidence of consanguineous marriages (parents married into close blood relations) gives birth to children who are born with severe blinding eye diseases. Limited availability of robust and timely screening of premature babies leads to increase in the incidence of advanced stages of retinopathy of prematurity.
Is childhood blindness preventable? If yes, what parents need to know?
Barring few, most causes of childhood blindness are preventable like congenital cataract, lazy eye resulting from uncorrected eye problems, corneal blindness due to trauma, vitamin A deficiency, congenital glaucoma, retinopathy of prematurity, etc.
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Identify the signs of poor seeing ability in children such as inability of the child to look at parents, follow objects, outward or inward deviation of the eye, opaque black portion of the eye, white reflex appearing in photographs.
Create safe environment for children to reduce risk of trauma and infections.
Vitamin A supplementation as advised by paediatrician is extremely important.
Get regular eye checkups for your children.
Be aware of the need for early eye examination in premature babies.
In case of one child is born with any blinding disease, counselling with experts before planning next pregnancy is advisable.