Bangladesh Takes Lead in World Efforts to Reduce Blindness

Jesmin Papri
2021.08.13
Dhaka
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Bangladesh Takes Lead in World Efforts to Reduce Blindness A doctor (left) checks a patient’s eyesight at the National Eye Science Institute and Hospital in Dhaka, Aug. 11, 2021.
Jesmin Papri/BenarNews

A simple cataract surgery has brightened Momena Khatun’s life.

The 65-year-old resident of Chandpur, south of Dhaka, just underwent the operation at a state-run eye hospital in the Bangladeshi capital.

“Now I can see everything clearly. I suffered for a long time with this cataract and my vision was reduced. I just spent U.S. $200 to remove the cataract,” she told a reporter from BenarNews on Wednesday as Khatun was waiting to leave the National Eye Science Institute and Hospital.

Khatun is among Bangladeshis who say their vision has improved thanks to affordable care for their eyesight offered through government-run clinics and hospitals.

The South Asian nation has cut the rate of blindness among people aged 30 years or older by more than one third during the past two decades, despite struggles obtaining modern equipment and training a sufficient number of eye doctors, according to government officials. And now, Bangladesh is promoting eye-care on the international stage.

Last month, Dhaka’s ambassador to the United Nations introduced a draft resolution at the U.N. General Assembly aimed at ensuring global access to eye care, as delegates sought to capitalize on a link between proper eye care and the world body’s long-standing sustainable development goals.

About 90 percent of people who did not have access to good eye care live in low- and middle-income countries, Ambassador Rabab Fatima said as she introduced the resolution.

“In Bangladesh, according to a 2018 estimate, the number of blind people age 30 and above is 750,000 and more than 6 million people in Bangladesh need vision correction by spectacles or by any other means,” Fatima said in a U.N. news release.

“Millions of people globally lose their vision, needlessly. And this phenomenon largely impedes their ability to contribute their full potential to the socio-economic development of their societies. The resolution before us has the potential to reverse this situation.”

On July 23, the General Assembly adopted the resolution “Vision for Everyone: Accelerating Action to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”

It was the first-ever resolution on eye-health adopted by the U.N. body. Antigua, Barbuda and Ireland joined Bangladesh as co-chairs of the resolution, which drew 115 co-sponsors.

Ambassador Fatima called the resolution unique because it is the first agreement among U.N. member-states designed to tackle preventable sight loss.

In Bangladesh, government health officials said the nation had succeeded since 2000 in reducing blindness, vision loss, impaired vision or other eyesight problems because patients like Momena Khatun are benefitting from affordable treatments. The officials said the cost of Khatun’s treatment could have been two to four times higher if she were treated at a private health-care facility.

Similar treatments are making their way to rural areas.

“Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina established 90 community vision centers at remote villages to treat eye patients. Establishing 40 more community vision centers is underway,” Dr. Md, Shahidul Islam, who manages the Health Department’s National Eye Care Program, told BenarNews.

The government plans to establish at least one center in every sub-district or upazila, he said.  

Since the year 2000, the government has reduced the rate of blindness among people aged 30 or above by 35 percent, he said, citing surveys of people in that age group done in 2000 and 2020.

“Both surveys were conducted for persons above 30 years and above. No survey was conducted in Bangladesh [for people] under 30 years of age," Islam said.

He also said cataracts are responsible for 80 percent of eyesight loss cases.

Another cause for sight loss is diabetic retinopathy, which affects 25 percent to 30 percent of those who have suffered from diabetes for more than a decade, noting more than 10 million Bangladeshis are diabetic.

Mafruha Afrin, a doctor at the Bangladesh Eye Hospital, noted that eye-related treatments had spread across the nation even though it has contended with a shortage of technology and specialists.

“The more modern the diagnosis for a disease, the better treatment can be given. Eye-related treatments are highly dependent on modern equipment,” he told BenarNews.

Shahidul, meanwhile, said the government had increased the use of technologies regarding eye treatment in last decade and was working toward increasing the number of eye surgeons.

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