Aussie Miasma

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13 October 2005

Number of blind people drops: WHO - Yahoo! Australia & NZ News

Thursday October 13, 12:03 AM AAP

Number of blind people drops: WHO

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The number of blind people worldwide, including 50,000 Australians, has started to dwindle for the first time, a World Health Organisation (WHO) report shows.

Melbourne ophthalmologist Hugh Taylor, of Eye Research Australia, said numbers had decreased from around 45 million in 2000 to about 38 million people despite world population growth.

He said the report showed the strategies developed by the WHO's Vision 2020: The Right to Sight campaign, were starting to impact.

Before the campaign, WHO had forecast blindness would affect 55 million people by 2020.

Professor Taylor said the latest WHO report, to be released on Thursday in Geneva, referred to work in Australia towards the prevention of blindness and vision loss on a global scale.

Yet he said of the estimated 50,000 Australians suffering from blindness and the half a million with visual impairment, up to three-quarters of their eye problems were caused by conditions which were either preventable or treatable.

"Although we're doing well, we can actually do one heck of a lot better," Prof Taylor said in an interview to mark World Sight Day.

He said around 40,000 Australians were on public hospital waiting lists for cataract surgery, some having to suffer for years before being operated on.

The husband of 79-year-old Thelma Goronszy, of Redcliffe, north of Brisbane, told earlier this year of how she died in January, 2004, while waiting for a cataract operation.

Herbert Goronszy, 81, said in July his wife was almost blind, which led to her making a mistake with self-administered diabetes medication, an error that resulted in her death.

Prof Taylor said the community could not afford to have people waiting too long for cataract surgery.

"The cost ... of the increased falls and fractures and demand on community services is enormous and cataract surgery is so cost effective," he said.

Anyone who noticed a change in their vision should have their eyes examined straight away, Prof Taylor said.

"You're not going to fracture your leg and say: `Oh look, it's not such a problem. I'll wait until after Christmas to get it examined'," he said.

"You'll go off and get it examined right away. If you notice a change in vision, don't put it off until after Christmas.

"If there's something that can be treated, it's important that it gets treated quickly so you don't lose vision permanently."

Prof Taylor said people at high risk of vision impairment, such as the over 75s, diabetics and those with a family history of glaucoma should have eye checks every two years.

Otherwise, he advised people to have eye examinations by an ophthalmologist or optometrist every five years.


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