Fact Sheet N 147
BLINDNESS AND VISUAL DISABILITY
Part VI of VII: WHO's Response
The World Health Organization (WHO) has always been conscious of the fact that blindness and visual disability are a public health problem. However, for a long time, the magnitude of this problem could not be assessed, and meaningful global prevention activities could not be initiated because of lack of epidemiological data and information.
Consequently, the first task faced by the WHO Programme for the Prevention of Blindness (PBL), created in 1978, was to prepare reliable estimates of prevalence of blindness and visual disability worldwide.
* The "SAFE" strategy for the elimination of trachoma. "SAFE" stands for Surgery for trichiasis (inturned eyelashes), Antibiotics, Facial cleanliness and Environmental improvement. It consists of a combination of community-targeted public health interventions which seek community involvement through the primary health care approach. An estimated 146 million people are expected to benefit from the implementation of this strategy.
* Another example of a successful PBL-developed strategy is the provision of cataract surgery as part of primary health care. This strategy is based on the establishment of sustainable and affordable services that use appropriate technology.
* Prevention of blindness from glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy is based on raising professional and public awareness. Even in developed countries, only 50 % of people affected by these diseases are aware of their conditions.
* WHO has been actively assisting its Member States in the planning, establishment,
monitoring and evaluation of national programmes for the prevention of blindness in which
the emphasis is put on eye care provision as an integral part of primary health care.
Currently, there are around 100 such programmes in different stages of development.
* PBL has been strengthening cooperation with and bringing together international NGDOs within a global network active in blindness prevention. A Partnership Committee with a Task Force have been set up for the exchange of information and joint activities in developing countries where the NGDO network is spending some US$ 80 million per year. This is by no means sufficient, and the network is making efforts to mobilize additional resources.
* The "SAFE" strategy has become the operational basis for the formation of a WHO-led international alliance of governments, international organizations and NGOs for the elimination of trachoma.
* WHO is cooperating with the World Bank which has made available some US$ 120 million for improving cataract surgical services in seven states within the framework of the Indian National Programme for Control of Blindness (NPCB).
* WHO and other organizations involved in the prevention and control of blindness are making concerted efforts to expand their partnership with the pharmaceutical industry. Merck & Co. - the manufacturer of ivermectin - is making the drug available, free of charge, to all onchocerciasis endemic countries. It is a perfect example of the role industry can play in disease prevention and control. There are other tropical diseases, for instance trachoma, where a similar formula would be of great benefit to world health.
* Launched in 1974, OCP currently encompasses 11 African countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. The total operational area covers 1.23 million sq km and a combined population of about 30 million people.
* As a result of OCP's implementation, some 1.5 million people, who were once infected with onchocerciasis, no longer have any trace of the disease and are not at risk of becoming blind. About 10 million children born in the area since the programme's inception are now free of any risk of contracting the disease. By the turn of the century, it is estimated that OCP will have prevented almost 300 000 cases of blindness in the 11 countries involved in the programme.
For further information, please contact Health Communications and Public Relations, WHO, Geneva (41 22) 791 2532/2584. Fax (41 22) 791 4858.
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