World Sight Day is annually observed every second Thursday of October. This year it falls on October 13, with the theme “Universal Eye Health” and the call to action “Stronger Together” to bring together groups of people – ophthalmologists, optometrists, ophthalmic nurses, donors, patients, carers – who are engaged in eye care services to showcase why eye health needs everyone’s attention. More groups – the diabetic community, the irreparably blind, vulnerable groups, including those with disabilities, patient’s family – will make the campaign toward good eye health stronger.
The observance focuses on blindness and vision impairment as well as on ways to help people with these conditions. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, as well as Lions Clubs International, coordinate programs that educate target audiences about blindness prevention, and generate support for “Vision 2020; The Right to Sight,” the global initiative for elimination of avoidable blindness.
Launched in 1999, Vision 2020 works to eliminate preventable and curable blindness by 2020. Adopted in more than 40 countries, including the Philippines, it promotes the importance of good vision and the limiting effects that uncorrected vision impairment can have on people’s lives.
WHO statistics show that 285 million people worldwide are visually impaired, of which 39 million are blind and 246 million have low vision; 90 percent of visually impaired are in developing countries; 80 percent of visual impairment can be avoided or cured; 19 million children are visually impaired; and 65 percent of visually impaired are aged 50 and older. The principal cause of blindness is cataract. Refractive error is an eye disorder in the focusing of light, the most common of which are astigmatism, hyperopic (farsightedness), myopia (nearsightedness), and presbyopia. Increasing elderly populations in many countries mean that more people will be at risk of age-related visual impairment.
In the Philippines, 348, 771 people are blind; common causes are cataract, retinal and macular diseases, optic nerve diseases, glaucoma, and trauma. The Department of Health and the Philippine Academy of Ophthalmology work together for Vision 2020 Philippines to address the incidence of avoidable blindness, whose causes are cataract, errors of refraction, and childhood blindness. Avoidable blindness is more common among those who lack access to quality eye care; people in developing world are more likely to go blind that those in highly industrialized nations.
The WHO Global Action Plan (2014-2019) targets the reduction in prevalence of avoidable blindness and visual impairment by 25 percent by 2019. Under the plan, governments collect better evidence on magnitude and prevalence of blindness; train more eye care professionals; provide comprehensive eye care services and integrate them into existing health systems; and identify and eliminate socio-economic obstacles, particularly for the poor and marginalized.