DUBAI: Saudi doctors and volunteers are expected to play a key role in a recently launched initiative to enable medical professionals in Yemen, Bangladesh, Sudan, Nigeria and Pakistan to intervene quickly to save people’s sight.
The initiative, the result of a partnership between the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) and the Al-Basar International Foundation, provides for 41 medical campaigns, during which approximately 205,000 examinations will be carried out, 16,400 operations will be carried out and 41,000 medical glasses will be distributed.
According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), the 262,400 people expected to benefit from this initiative are among the estimated 2.2 billion people worldwide affected by blindness or visual impairment. The WHO figure includes approximately one billion people with preventable or untreated visual impairment.
The main causes of visual impairment and blindness are uncorrected refractive errors and cataracts, especially in people over 50. The problem is particularly prevalent in the developing world, where facilities and specialists are scarce.
“The highest prevalence of blindness we see is in countries with limited health care resources and in low-income countries,” Dr. David Gritz, a vision specialist and physician, told Arab News. staff at the Eye Institute at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.
Gritz, who was previously head of the cornea division at King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital in Riyadh, said the prevalence of visual impairment is also linked to environmental factors, age distribution and population.
Referring to the KSrelief-Al-Basar joint initiative, he said, “This campaign is very exciting because anything we can do to have an impact is helpful.
“It’s not only helpful for the people we treat, but it impacts the family, the community and the economy of the whole country, as visual impairment and blindness affect people’s quality of life and their productivity. It also affects their general health.
The Al-Basar International Foundation launched its first medical campaign in Pakistan in 1989 before establishing a sister organization in the UK in 2005. Today it fights against preventable sight loss in 46 countries.
Many more can now be reached through its latest partnership with KSrelief. The Saudi aid agency has implemented 1,475 projects worth nearly $4.9 billion in 59 countries, covering everything from mine clearance to the rehabilitation of child soldiers.
The main causes of moderate to severe distance vision impairment or blindness are untreated refractive error, cataracts, glaucoma and corneal opacities, as well as diabetic retinopathy, trachoma and visual impairment. nearly caused by untreated presbyopia. In many cases, prompt intervention can prevent people from losing their sight unnecessarily.
“What’s encouraging is that 90% of vision loss is preventable or treatable, so that’s an area where we can have a huge impact on prevention, like glaucoma, where you have to find the disease and the treat to ensure prevention,” Gritz mentioned.
“And some are treatable, like cataracts, which are the number one cause of vision loss and blindness worldwide, including in places like the United States and low-income countries.”
Global inequalities in health are clearly reflected in the comparative rates of blindness and vision loss in rich countries and in the developing world. According to WHO estimates, the prevalence of distance vision impairment in low- and middle-income regions is four times higher than in high-income regions.
In terms of untreated near vision impairment, rates are estimated to be over 80% in western, eastern and central sub-Saharan Africa, while rates in high-income regions of North America, Australasia, Western Europe and Asia-Pacific are reported. be less than 10 percent.
“A growing and aging population is expected to increase the risk that more people will develop visual impairment,” reports the WHO.
“One point is that the prevalence of blindness is going down, but that’s based on the percentage of the population,” Gritz said.
“As the population globally grows and ages, the number of people with blindness and visual impairment continues to increase dramatically. Many organizations are doing a great job of figuring out how to deliver care effectively, so I’m glad to see the Saudi King getting involved and willing to contribute in this way.
This is not the first time that KSrelief and the Al-Basar International Foundation have teamed up to fight against preventable blindness. An earlier agreement was signed in September 2020 to provide assistance to Yemen, Philippines, Democratic Republic of Congo (correct?), Bangladesh, Sudan, Djibouti, Rwanda and Burundi.
Around thirty medical campaigns were carried out, offering 12,000 operations and 30,000 medical glasses, benefiting 150,000 people.
The challenges of these projects include finding enough funding, resources and equipment to implement programs in the field, and especially finding enough qualified professionals to perform examinations and operations.
Interventions must be tailored to specific regions, where local diseases, poverty rates and environmental factors have their own distinct impact on eye health. Local customs, beliefs and education standards should also be taken into account.
“That’s one of the important things whenever you think about a program. This is the best way to accommodate special needs and environmental and cultural sensitivities, so many things need to be considered when designing an intervention program,” Gritz said.
“Other things like their openness to medical care, especially vision care. And for people with less education, people who have had different experiences in their lives, blindness is seen as a fatality when you’re old , so there’s a part that’s also educational. They think cataracts are part of aging, but if they just seek treatment, they can get cataract treatment and see just fine.
Dr Anurag Mathur, an eye specialist at Medcare Hospital in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, says vision loss is one of the world’s leading health problems, with 90% of blindness occurring in developing countries. development, especially in Africa and Asia.
In the developing world, the prevalence of blindness varies from country to country, ranging from 0.9% of the population in Pakistan to over 4% in Nigeria, often depending on living conditions and socio-economic situation of the country.
“The number of elderly people and children suffering from blindness is increasing in developing countries, mainly due to improving life expectancy and the increased number of children surviving complicated births,” said Mathur told Arab News.
With health facilities and appropriate treatments made available, these people can be spared the pervasive darkness and isolation of avoidable blindness.
“A simple comprehensive eye exam can detect all major eye problems leading to blindness,” Mathur said.
“Proper management can enable millions of people around the world to see better, which can not only change their lives, but also strengthen societies.
“This campaign is a small but positive step in the right direction to tackle preventable blindness and we need more initiatives like this to eradicate preventable blindness from the face of the earth.”