Inequities in eye care unites NGOs

May 13, 2009

Non governmental organisations have come together to draw attention to the inequalities in eye care for women worldwide.

Non governmental organisations have come together to draw attention to the inequalities in eye care for women worldwide. Seeing Women: Taking on Gender Inequities in Global Blindness Prevention, was presented at a high profile event at the Washington National Press Club in Washington.

"Globally, women bear a greater burden of blindness than men," said Victoria Sheffield, President, International Eye Foundation. "Clear evidence from developing countries shows that women receive fewer eye care services in part because eye care programs are not tailored to meet the needs of women and second, cultural and social barriers exist at the community level."

Kathy Spahn, President of Helen Keller International read a message from Nicholas Kristof, New York Times columnist and gender advocate: "The development community has steadily realized that you can't make much progress in international development unless you bring women into the equation. We sometimes focus so much on the injustices suffered by women that we risk perceiving poor women as a big mountain of a problem; the truth is that women aren't the problem, they're the solution."

Of the 45 million bilaterally blind in the world, two thirds are women, yet they receive less than half the services. Moreover, 80% of these cases are preventable or treatable.

"The major cause of blindness in developing countries is cataract, curable by surgery. Women account for about two-thirds of the cataract blind because they do not receive surgery at the same rate as men," noted Dr Suzanne Gilbert of the Seva Foundation. It is estimated that "blindness and severe visual impairment from cataract could be reduced by around 11% in low- and middle-income countries if women were to receive cataract surgery at the same rate as men."

Dr Paul Courtright, co-director of the Kilimanjaro Centre for Community Ophthalmology added: "The most vulnerable group in society, children, are also saddled with gender inequity in the use of eye care services. Evidence from countries as diverse as Tanzania and Bangladesh suggests that girls are more likely to remain blind than be brought for eye care."

The event points the way towards Gender and Eye Health, the theme of World Sight Day, October 8, 2009 which focuses international attention annually on blindness and vision impairment as a global public health issue. It is coordinated with VISION 2020: The Right to Sight, the joint global campaign of the World Health Organization and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness.

For more information, visit www.v2020.org/gender or email gender@vision2020.org.

Also www.hki.org, www.iefusa.org, www.kcco.net, and www.seva.org.