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Glaucoma awareness a must in tackling blindness

Image credit: Rudra Narayan Mitra / 123rf. Concept: eye exam to tackle vision loss and visual impairment. Glaucoma awareness concept.
A man is examined at an eye testing camp in Kolkata, West Bengal. Image credit: Rudra Narayan Mitra / 123rf

With World Glaucoma Week having begun yesterday, it is a valuable opportunity to assess the disease’s impact – given it is a significant driver of vision loss in India and globally.

As explained by the National Health Portal, “glaucoma is a term used to describe [a] group of diseases of the eye, characterised by progressive and irreversible damage to the optic nerve (nerve of the eye responsible for vision) and which, if untreated, may lead to blindness. 

“One of the important factors is increase in pressure of the eye, but people with normal eye pressure can also develop glaucoma. According to WHO [the World Health Organization], there are several types of glaucoma, however, the two most common are, primary open angle glaucoma (POAG), having a slow and insidious onset, and angle closure glaucoma (ACG), which is less common and tends to be more acute.” 

India experiences a considerable burden of global eye health issues. India is home to twenty percent of the world’s visually impaired population. “Over sixty million people in India are blind and with some form of vision impairment or the other,” Vinod Daniel, chief executive officer and managing director of the not-for-profit trust India Vision Institute (IVI), told Health Issues India in 2019. However, he went on to note, “the challenge is huge but not insurmountable.” 

Recently, a report outlined how untreated vision impairment is an entirely avoidable public health concern, but 1.8 billion could be affected by 2050. More than ninety percent of such cases can be either averted or treated with interventions that both exist and are highly cost-effective. 

Glaucoma is a key driver of India’s eye health woes. According to the National Health Portal, “in India, glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness with at least twelve million people affected and nearly 1.2 million people blind from the disease.” 

As such, it is incumbent upon the public health community to ensure screening for the disease – and other eye diseases and their causative factor – is undertaken at a substantial scale. 

“The overarching goal of this campaign is for everyone to know about the disease called ‘glaucoma’ and encourage the general public to go and get tested,” emphasises Fabian Lerner, president of the World Glaucoma Association. “Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of irreversible blindness, but with early treatment, the damage may get limited and sight may be saved. By promoting regular testing, we also want glaucoma patients to get their relatives involved, as the chances of them getting glaucoma are ten times higher than someone with no glaucoma history in their close family environment. Therefore, the World Glaucoma Week is a great opportunity to raise awareness through word of mouth.”

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