Blindness and Deafness Prevention

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There are an estimated 9 million blind in sub-Saharan Africa and a further 27 million people are visually impaired. This represents 18,4% of the world’s blind despite the Region having only 11% of global population, and also the highest regional burden of blindness ratio in the world. Forty per cent of all blind in the region live in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Democratic republic of the Congo. The number of blind in sub-Saharan Africa is projected to increase to double by 2020 unless measures are taken to counter the problem. This could have significant socio-economic impact on communities and countries.

The major causes of avoidable blindness in sub-Saharan Africa are cataract (50%), glaucoma mainly open angle, diabetic retinopathy, childhood blindness, trachoma, and onchocerciasis. Uncorrected refractive errors are the main cause of visual impairment. Eighty per cent of the causes of visual impairment including blindness are avoidable.

The available resources to tackle the problem of visual impairment and blindness in sub-Saharan Africa are insufficient. There is marked shortage (particularly midlevel eye care personnel) and maldistribution of human resources and eye care facilities. The current output of eye care services is grossly inadequate and far from addressing the need.

VISION 2020 was launched in 1999 by WHO to eliminate avoidable blindness worldwide by the year 2020. Despite the adoption of  resolution WHA56.26 in 2003, the strain for the response of Member States in WHO/AFRO region in implementing VISION 2020 is still mostly inadequate.

Resolution WHA59.25 listed Prevention of Blindness and Visual impairment as a WHO priority. The resolution calls for increased commitment of both WHO and Member States to support the implementation of National VISION 2020 programmes.

A Regional Strategy on Avoidable Blindness Prevention has been developed and adopted by the Regional Committee (RC57). There is therefore a sense of urgency to scale up the implementation of VISION 2020 in sub-Saharan Africa if the region is to meet the envisaged targets. A Regional action plan will be developed, and at country level activities will follow as resources become available.