New Delhi, Jan. 2: A government-sponsored national survey on blindness shows it is increasing in Bengal, Karnataka and Punjab while declining in the rest of the country.
A comparison between the surveys of 1986-89 and 2001-02 reveals that blindness has gone up from 0.96 per cent to 1.19 per cent in Bengal, from 1.28 per cent to 1.78 per cent in Karnataka and from 0.73 per cent to 1.01 per cent in Punjab. Of an estimated 450 lakh blind people in the world, 70 lakh are in India.
The main causes of blindness are cataract (opacity in the eye lens leading to gradual diminution of vision), refractive errors (inability to see clear objects, near or far), glaucoma (rise in intra-ocular pressure) and corneal opacity (clouding of the transparent portion in front of the eye).
Usually, the chances of going blind increase in people above 50 years.
The poor and unlettered are more vulnerable than the rich. It is also more prevalent among women.
Blindness, however, has gone down in Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, all of which had marked a spiralling growth in blindness in 1986 but appear to have effectively battled the problem since.
The latest survey shows a decline in blindness from 1.58 per cent to 0.94 per cent in Uttar Pradesh, from 1.72 per cent to 1.40 per cent in Orissa, from 1.65 per cent to 0.78 per cent in Tamil Nadu and from 1.64 per cent to 0.95 per cent in Maharashtra.
A health ministry official said that of all the national programmes, the one to control blindness appeared to be the most successful. The other national programmes are for controlling malaria, tuberculosis, cancer, AIDS, polio and kala azar. But the response to the overwhelming demand for cornea transplant has been sluggish for eye banks are in short supply.
Officials believe there should be an effort to raise awareness among people to donate their eyes to the sightless. The response from the family of the deceased and the eye bank needs to be quick because a cornea must be removed from a dead person within six hours of death. It must be transplanted within the next 72 hours.
A World Bank-sponsored blindness control programme, implemented in seven states, suggested improving the quality of cataract surgery and making the surgery available in backward areas and to underprivileged groups.
In its report, the World Bank had emphasised the need to strengthen the infrastructure in hospitals where cataract surgeries are done.