By Sabrina R. Espinoza
Childhood blindness is when someone under 16 years of age has the severe visual impairment or has a visual acuity of 20/200 (With correction, such as glasses or contacts), meaning that they can read an eye chart standing 20 feet away as well as someone with normal vision who is standing 200 feet away. The person cannot read the top line of the eye chart even if they have glasses or lenses on.
Children who are born with blindness or affected by blindness usually have a lifetime of blindness ahead of them, causing some difficulties in the emotional and social life of the child and their family. Problems in everyday life could also occur since the child’s vision is very low and cannot see clearly. This could cause the child to have trouble locating certain things.
Even though it might seem somewhat common, blindness in children is actually relatively rare. Because of this, accurate data on the commonality of it is difficult to find out or obtain. Data, however, is available from population surveys that include children from rehabilitation programs and from registers of the blind. Based on the data from these sources, it was concluded that the commonality of blindness in children varies according to socioeconomic development. Basically, low-income countries have the highest number of cases, averaging 1.5 per 1000 children. High-income countries have a much lower amount of cases, averaging 0.3 per 1000 children. An estimation using these two pieces of data says that there should be about 1.4 million blind children in the world’s population. About three-quarters of the world’s blind children live in the poorest regions of Africa and Asia, where the child population is quite large.
In the last few years, many pieces of information have been recorded in a methodology that was developed by the International Center for Eye Health in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO). The research showed that the most common site of the abnormality (visual impairment) was in the retina, having about 380,000 cases with that area. Along with that, the most common cause of blindness was apparently unknown, having 560,000 cases caused by unknown factors. Other causes included hereditary diseases, childhood factors, perinatal factors, and intrauterine factors. Other sites of abnormalities included the cornea, the whole globe, the lens, the optic nerve, glaucoma, and the uvea.
Despite all this, some causes of childhood blindness are preventable or treatable. Conditions that can be treated early to prevent blindness include glaucoma and ROP (Retinopathy of Prematurity). Areas and causes of blindness such as the cataract or selected cases of corneal scarring can still be treated by having the sight be restored. Corneal scarring is cited as the single most important cause of avoidable and preventable blindness. Today, corneal scarring can be prevented by maternal and child health care, health education, good nutrition, essential drugs, clean water supplies and good sanitation, control of endemic diseases, and treatment of common conditions.
Besides corneal scarring, other causes of blindness can still be prevented. Many gadgets and high-tech glasses are being built to help blind or visually impaired people see better. The WHO is also coordinating international efforts to reduce visual impairments by developing policies and strategies and monitoring the worldwide trend of visual impairment. Children with blindness can be helped by using visual aids, therapy to help with their daily living and motor skills, and orientation and mobility training.
Our goal is to reduce childhood blindness in the world and to provide children with vision impairment with the tools and aids they need to improve their quality of life.