Ageing Populations Face Crisis of Rising Blindness

    LONDON, UK, Oct. 4 /CNW/ - The world's populations are ageing rapidly,
bringing greater risk of blindness and vision impairment to millions. Around
the world, organisations of many kinds are joining forces to help protect the
eyesight of older people, and to mark World Sight Day 2008 (WSD08).
    Worldwide, 45 million people are blind, the great majority of whom are
over 50 years of age, but in over three-quarters of cases, especially those
affecting older people, the sight loss results from preventable or treatable
causes (otherwise known as avoidable).
    -  75% of blindness is avoidable

    -  80% of blind people are over 50 years of age

    -  Cataract is the world's greatest cause of blindness, yet its cure is
       well-known, fast and one of the most cost-effective of all health

    -  Timely intervention can preserve sight, so regular eye tests for older
       people are essential

    -  Up to three hundred organisations from 60 countries will organise
       events large and small on and around 9th October to mark World Sight
       Day, with the common theme of Eyes on the Future

    The emerging danger to ageing eyes - diabetic retinopathy

    At least 171 million people worldwide have diabetes mellitus. This figure
is likely to more than double to an estimated 366 million by 2030, with the
greatest proportionate increase occurring in medium and low-income countries
(see figure 1). Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is a common complication of diabetes
and has now become a leading cause of new-onset blindness in many
industrialised countries and an increasingly frequent cause of blindness
    Whereas most people with diabetes in industrialised countries are above
the age of retirement, in developing countries those most frequently affected
are much younger, in the 'working' age group between 35 and 64. People in this
situation will be affected by their condition for far longer, for example
living with the resulting sight loss for twenty years or more. The steep
global increase in diabetes will occur because of population ageing and
growth, and because of increasing trends towards obesity, unhealthy diets and
sedentary lifestyles.
    Studies have shown that, with good management, many of the complications
of diabetes can be prevented or delayed. Effective management includes
lifestyle measures such as a healthy diet, physical activity, maintaining
appropriate weight and not smoking. Medication often has an important role to
play, particularly for the control of blood glucose, blood pressure and blood
    Dr. Ivo Kocur, who leads the Prevention of Blindness and Deafness at
WHO's headquarters in Geneva, warns than "75% of patients who have had
diabetes mellitus for more than 20 years will have some form of diabetic
retinopathy, but even those who take care to manage the condition with diet
and medication often fail to get regular eye tests, and report only when the
condition has progressed beyond effective treatment".
    Effective treatment is well-known to significantly reduce the risk of
blindness and vision loss. Clinical studies spanning more than 30 years have
shown that appropriate treatment can reduce the risks by more than 90%. The
research and resulting WHO guidance on diabetes and diabetic retinopathy are
now available, but it rests with the governments to recognise the urgency, and
to put that advice into action.
    While the individual contributions of NGOs, institutions and governments
have saved the sight of millions, collaborative efforts have the potential to
actually eliminate avoidable blindness around the world. These efforts are
consolidated in VISION 2020: The Right to Sight, the global initiative of the
World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for the
Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), for the elimination of avoidable blindness.

    For more information on VISION 2020 and World Sight Day, please visit To help VISION 2020 members to save the sight of millions, go

    Interviews are available by arrangement with Dr. Ivo Kocur (Team Leader,
Prevention of Blindness & Deafness, World Health Organization) and Mr. Peter
Ackland (Director of Programmes, IAPB)

For further information:

For further information: case studies, photography and for interviews
with representatives of IAPB and WHO, call Abi Smith:, Tel:
+44 (0)20 7927 2974, Mobile: +44 (0)7961 841 822

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