A statewide study conducted in all schools for the blind revealed that the Centre’s vitamin A supplementation programme for pregnant mothers has been a success with the number of children being born blind dropping drastically as compared to the numbers when a similar study was done 15 years ago by the same organisation.
The study, conducted in 2019 by the HV Desai Eye Hospital’s expert team revealed that 15% of children enrolled in blind schools were ‘not blind’, but could be helped with special devices. It, however, also states that the government must now focus on tackling blindness in premature babies. The study conducted in 2019 and supported by Bajaj Finance Ltd, covered 2,000 kids enrolled in blind schools across the state.
Dr Sucheta Kulkarni, principal investigator at HV Desai hospital, said, “We believe this is the largest study conducted worlwide, considering the sample size. We will also use this study to influence government policies by discussing the outcomes of the study and help the government form better policies to tackle blindness. We will organise a meeting on February 18, wherein global experts from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and government officials will study the research findings.”
Col M Deshpande (retd), chief medical director, HV Desai Eye Hospital, said, “It is an established fact that causes of blindness in children are proxy indicators of the health system of the country, in turn expressing the economic progress that a country is making. For example- unavoidable causes (such as blindness due to brain hypoxia) is common in western countries while vitamin A deficiency related blindness is common in African countries.”
According to the study, ill developed eye at birth is the major cause of blindness (47%) followed by corneal and retinal causes (15% each) and cataract (7%). Every third child (32%) was blind due to a cause which could have been prevented or treated, reveals the statewide study. Comparison of these findings with previous studies conducted by the HV Desai team 15 years ago, show that blindness due to vitamin A deficiency is decreasing, but that due to retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is increasing.
“This indicates the success of the government’s vitamin A supplementation programme for pregnant mothers, but implies that the government now needs to tackle blindness due to ROP which is seen in premature babies,” suggests the study. There is a need to train more doctors to manage cataract and ROP in children and also to procure highly specialised equipments to manage these diseases, the study noted.
According to the study, nearly 15% of the children in these schools were ‘not blind’ and could be helped with special devices (low vision devices) which could enhance their vision. There is a need to increase awareness in the society and teachers that all visually impaired children are not necessarily blind, added the experts who conducted the study. Proper and timely examination by experts can help identify children who can see better with low vision devices. Unfortunately, such experts are located in big cities and needy children are often in remote rural areas. Training of more and more paramedical staff (optometrists) to provide low vision services in all districts is the need of the hour, added the experts.