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World Sight Day: 10 October

Eighty percent of all cases of blindness can be prevented or treated; the right to sight can and must be fulfilled

An estimated 180 million people world-wide are visually disabled. Of those, between 40 and 45 million persons are blind. Due to growing populations and ageing, these numbers are expected to double by the year 2020 making a colossal human tragedy even worse, stalling development and denying a basic human right.

World Sight Day is an annual event focusing on the problem of global blindness; it aims to raise public awareness around the world about the prevention and treatment of loss of vision. The event, taking place this year on 10 October 2002, will draw attention to the right to sight. The day will focus on governments' pledges to ensure increased access to health services in relation to both prevention and treatment of eye conditions. Providing access to eye care, which reduces the magnitude of avoidable blindness, is part of the obligation under the right to the highest attainable standard of health.

Up to 80% of cases of blindness are avoidable, either resulting from preventable conditions (20%) or being treatable (60%) so that sight is restored. Prevention and treatment of vision loss are among the most cost-effective and successful of all health interventions. These interventions include: cataract surgery to cure this eye disease related to ageing; prevention of trachoma; provision of the drug ivermectin for the treatment of the infectious disease river blindness; immunization against measles; provision of vitamin A supplements for the prevention of childhood blindness; and provision of eyeglasses.

Every five seconds one person in the world goes blind. One child goes blind every minute. It is estimated that over seven million people become blind every year.

"VISION 2020: The Right to Sight" is a global initiative, launched in 1999, which aims to eliminate avoidable blindness by the year 2020. VISION 2020 programmes have been adopted in more than 40 countries.

“Partners, including governments, working together under VISION 2020 can make a major difference to the lives of millions of women, men and children already visually disabled or at risk. Preserving or restoring vision can be accomplished at little cost and can help lift people out of poverty. They can then contribute fully to their families, communities and national development,” said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General, World Health Organization (WHO). "Eye care, therefore, needs to be a priority," she added, "and it's not just an issue for health ministries."

The causes of avoidable blindness are frequently associated with poverty and lack of access to quality eye care services. Avoidable blindness is more common in the poorest of the poor, women and marginalized populations. Ninety percent of the world's blind people live in developing countries; there are at least 9 million blind people in India, six million in China and seven million in Africa. People who live in the developing world are five to ten times more likely to go blind than people who live in highly industrialized countries.

Therefore, VISION 2020 considers the elimination of preventable and curable blindness in the context of global development. Visual disability has far-reaching implications touching on all aspects of human development – social, economic and quality of life.

VISION 2020 is a joint initiative of WHO and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB). They are joined by other UN agencies, governments, eye care organizations, health professionals, philanthropic institutions and individuals all working together in partnership to eliminate avoidable blindness.

Key strategies of VISION 2020 are: increasing awareness of this major public health issue; mobilizing additional resources (the annual spending on blindness prevention, $US 100 million, needs to double); controlling the major causes of avoidable blindness; training ophthalmologists and other personnel in eye care; and providing appropriate technology and infrastructure.

The annual World Sight Day provides an opportunity to become more aware and more committed to ensuring the right to sight for all. Hundreds of events will take place throughout the world to mark this occasion.

For more information contact:

Dr Ivo Kocur
Telephone: +41 22 791 1435
Fax: +41 22 791 4772

Dr Serge Resnikoff
Telephone: +41 22 791 4124
Fax: +41 22 791 4772