Who is affected?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO),
there are as many as 1.4 million children worldwide who are affected.
“Blindness is the inability to see. The leading causes of chronic blindness include cataract, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, corneal opacities, diabetic retinopathy, trachoma, and eye conditions in children (e.g. caused by vitamin A deficiency). Age-related blindness is increasing throughout the world, as is blindness due to uncontrolled diabetes. On the other hand, blindness caused by infection is decreasing, as a result of public health action. Three-quarters of all blindness can be prevented or treated.”
Most childhood blindness is caused by illness and disease that occurs early in life; many eye problems or defects are inherited. In low to middle-income countries, the number of children born blind is high and other childhood eye problems are more prevalent because medical care is not available or affordable. Often the conditions must be treated early or the child remains blind throughout life.
Although the Eye Foundation of America serves people of all ages, we have a special place in our heart for children because it is they who have the most to lose. Visually impaired or blind children grow up without the same advantages as sighted children. Unable to read and write, they often cannot support themselves as adults and become a burden on their families and communities.
Education is a great equalizer for children from impoverished families. It can allow them to lead productive lives full of opportunity. Without sight to help them experience their world, blind children often experience a life full of setbacks. Normal development is hindered and education becomes difficult or even impossible. Much of early learning—as much as 80 percent—comes to children through vision. As blind children mature, they find it difficult to learn a trade or start a career. They realize only a fraction of their own potential throughout their lives, which often span 75 years or more.
The great misfortune is that much childhood blindness is easily avoided, prevented, treated, or cured. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that as much as half of all childhood blindness can be avoided by treating diseases early and by correcting abnormalities at birth.
Such medical and surgical interventions usually take little time and are inexpensive. Surgical removal of the cataracts obscuring a child’s vision takes only minutes to perform and costs only a few hundred dollars. Delivering vitamin A also is inexpensive. Each child needs only two doses per year to prevent blindness and provide protection against many other disease.The cost? About 50 cents a dose.
Nowhere else does so little time and money go so far. If the needed medical intervention was an investment opportunity, the return on this investment would be high—75 or more years of a full, productive life in exchange for a few dollars and a few hours’ work. In cases like this, the question is not whether to restore a child’s sight as much as it is, “Can we afford not to?”