One person goes blind every minute in Indonesia

BANDUNG, INDONESIA - A lack of knowledge about eye health is the main reason behind the high blindness rate in Indonesia, a health practitioner has said.

The director of the Cicendo Eye Hospital and National Eye Center, Hikmat Wangsaatmadja, said that Indonesia had the highest number of blindness cases in the world, after Ethiopia.

"In fact, 80 per cent of blindness can be cured," Hikmat told the World Sight Day forum in Bandung, West Java, recently.

Hikmat, an ophthalmologist, said that most cases of blindness in Indonesia were caused by cataracts.

The high occurrence of blindness in the country, according to Hikmat, could be attributed to the fact that most people in Indonesia were reluctant to undergo eye operations, especially for cataracts, which are a clouding of the transparent lens of the eye.

Many people, according to Hikmat, did not know that cataracts could be treated through surgery. Because of such reluctance to undergo operations, he added, one person would go blind every minute in Indonesia from cataracts.

Hikmat said that the incidence of cataracts in Indonesia reached 240,000 annually, while the numberof cataract operations performed in the nation numbered only 100,000.

Deputy Health Minister Ali Gufron Mukti expressed hope that more people would have their eyes checked to prevent blindness.

World Sight Day 2012 in Bandung was marked with the launch of an audio book, Skenario Indah dari Tuhan (A Beautiful Scenario from God).

The book presents the works of 12 people with vision problems, ranging from poor vision to total blindness, and included students, teachers and therapists.

The one-hour audio book describes the feelings, hopes and experiences of people with low vision and the blind.

"We try to help and facilitate the sufferers to become independent and productive personalities," said the chairperson of the Syamsi Dhuha Foundation, Dian Syarief, who also has vision problems.

At Syamsi Dhuha, the responsibility for low vision and blind patients has been given to its low vision division.

Apart from giving motivation to those with vision problems, the division also provides training and certification for those with vision problems on shiatsu massage, computer use and writing.

"The audio book is one of the division's works,' Dian said.

Dian also underlined the important role of the community in improving low vision and permanent blindness sufferers' productivity, arguing that blindness was not just a public health problem, but was also a social problem.

Hikmat concurred, saying that a blind person who did not receive help could cause two other persons to be unemployed.

"This is because a blind person sometimes needs the help of two people and this is not productive," he said.

Globally, 135 million people have vision problems, 90 per cent of whom are from developing countries.

"The economic losses because of the cases is US$28 billion a year. This accounts for why this has to be a concern for all of us," he said.