The rate of blindness in Bangladesh dropped by 35% over the past 20 years, according to a national survey, a report of which was released by the Centre for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh (CIPRB) at a hotel in the capital on Thursday afternoon.
The CIPRB, with technical and financial support from the National Eye Care, conducted the survey titled "Nationwide Blindness Survey 2020", which showed that the current blindness rate in the country is 1%.
A previous survey was conducted in 1999, which showed the prevalence of blindness from cataract to be 1.53%, with a total of 6,50,000 blindness cases.
In the latest survey, this number decreased to 5,34,000. The population of the country, however, increased by 45% during the same period. Also, the average life expectancy has increased.
Establishment of community centres in every upazila, improvement in quality of services in district hospitals and medical colleges, eye camps, free cataract surgery and eye treatment, sight testings and various other steps have led to the decrease in blindness, Professor Golam Mostafa, president of the National Eye Care, said.
Speaking at the event, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said blindness had been reduced by 35% in the country, which was a huge achievement.
He said this did not happen on its own and much effort was behind it, but there was more to do. "Many facilities have been set up in the country for regular eye check-ups. There is a state-of-the-art eye institute in Dhaka and another eye hospital has been set up in Gopalganj."
He further said the spread of community centres in many upazilas meant people could take services of specialist doctors digitally. This would be spread across the country, so that a person in Bangladesh does not have any visual-impairments.
"Besides, it is the responsibility of the state to ensure that cataract blindness does not occur. We will work for that," he said.
The minister further said eye problems were caused due to eye injury, diabetes or high blood pressure and these should be kept under control. Environmental pollution and smoke from stoves also cause eye problems.
He said people needed to be informed about these issues and the problems needed to be fixed by regular eye examinations.
Dr SM Anamul Hoque, programme manager at National Eye Care, told The Business Standard, "We have come close to achieving the goal of eradicating blindness through various government interventions. In addition, the combined support of NGOs and private organisations has also helped with the efforts. Now, more needs to be done to maintain this achievement."
Although the rate of blindness has fallen, 1 out of every 100 people over the age of 30 in the country is blind, with about 7.5 lakh people blind at present. A total of 19% of the population aged 30 and above still suffers from different types of visual problems, while the global rate of such cases is 30%, the report said.
As part of the survey, data was collected between November 2020 and January 2021 from 18,810 participants from both urban and rural areas of all 64 districts.
The survey report recommended that a planned approach should be taken to reduce various eye problems.
It further said that eye health services can be expanded by setting up community vision centres in every upazila health complex in the country.
The government launched the National Eye Care Programme in 2005 to reduce blindness by 50%, in line with global goals for 2020.
Health Secretary Lokman Hossain Mia and Director General of Directorate General of Health Service (DGHS) Abul Bashar Khurshid Alam were present on the occasion.
According to the survey, the blindness rate among the population aged 50 and above is 1.75% in India, 2.5% in Nepal and 1.5% in Bangladesh. And for those over 30 years of age, the blindness rate in India is 2.7% and 0.7% in Bangladesh.