(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

The burden of blindness

Blindness. For generic use
Ed Yourdon/Flickr

Afghanistan’s Public Health Ministry in conjunction with the World Health Organization (WHO) is opening 10 temporary eye clinics across the country to enable cataract operations to be performed.



Funded by a US$90,000 donation from Kuwait's Patients Helping Fund Society, the plan is to carry out 2,000 cataract surgeries by the end of the year.



“Visual impairment is treatable but poor people cannot afford it,” Peter Graaff, WHO’s representative in Afghanistan, told IRIN, adding that cataracts were a leading cause of blindness, even though surgery costs only US$45.



About 16,000 cataract surgeries are performed annually. This is enough to deal with new cases but not to clear the backlog of 200,000 cases, says WHO.



Every day about 70 people in Afghanistan lose their vision, at least in one eye, and almost half a million Afghans are completely blind, according to WHO. About 1.5 million Afghans are visually impaired, it says.



Blindness imposes an economic burden of about US$100 million a year, according to WHO - a not inconsiderable sum for a country ranked second least developed in the world in 2009.



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