A NEW longitudinal eye health study of the urban low-income population in Pune showed that the prevalence of blindness and vision impairment reduced over four years from 2015 to 2019, blindness from 0.26% to 0.1%, and vision impairment from 0.16% to 0.05%.

Published recently in the Indian Journal of Ophthalmology, the study has indicated that vision centres can help in reducing blindness and vision impairment.

In a novel initiative, researchers from the Community Eye Care Foundation led by consultant ophthalmologist Dr Parikshit Gogate attempted to estimate the prevalence of blindness and severe visual impairment (SVI) by using a door-to-door screening and vision centre (VC) examination strategy in Pune slums across a population of nearly 50,000 in 2015 and then repeated the exercise after four years to study its impact.

“We observed a reduction of blindness and visual impairment over the years, and the gender gap in eyes with vision <6/12 narrowed. Our teams screened close to 50,000 persons in their homes in 2015-16 and then again in 2019. Prevalence of blindness reduced by 40 per cent. More women were blind as compared to men. However, this reduced in five years though the difference still persisted between men and women. Now, nearly 60 per cent of people visiting the vision centres were women as access to care is not a barrier. What the study has shown is that services should be easily available,” Dr Gogate said.

A dedicated team led by Dr Supriya Phadke of four trained community health workers measured the visual acuity and performed an external ocular examination in patients’ homes. If vision is 20/60 (6/18), the person can read at 20ft (6 metres) what people with normal vision can read at 60 ft (18 metres). Hence, people with vision <6/18 were urged to visit the vision centre for a comprehensive eye examination by an optometrist. An ophthalmologist examined people whose vision did not improve to 6/12. A home examination was done for people who did not visit the vision centre despite two requests. The same population of around 50,000 was examined twice in an interval of four years.

“The principal cause of blindness was cataract, with a proportion of 44.9% and 41.6% in the first and second surveys, respectively. In 2015, cataract patients had more severe grades of visual disabilities compared to those in 2019. In four years, 2015–2019, the vision centre examined 8,211 patients (3,377 males, including 529 boys, and 4,834 females, including 520 girls).

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