DUBAI, UAE: There are at least 130,000 Palestinian people aged 50 years and older who live with blindness or some form of visual impairment, according to a recent survey implemented by The Fred Hollows Foundation, St John Eye Hospital Group, and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
The survey, which aimed to assess the prevalence of blindness, vision impairment, diabetic retinopathy (DR), and disability in West Bank and Gaza Strip, shows that there are at least 13,000 people who are blind and 119,000 with early, moderate, or severe visual impairment.
In addition, the survey indicates that there are more than twice as many women who are blind than men in Palestine.
“Most worryingly, the survey revealed that at least 70% of those who are blind are women,” said Jon Crail, Executive Director of Programs for the Fred Hollows Foundation. “In West Bank and Gaza Strip, women far are more likely to be blind than men.”
Cataract and diabetic retinopathy are the leading causes of blindness and low vision among Palestinian people.
“Cataract causes 38% of blindness,” Crail said. “While DR is responsible of 24.1% of blindness.”
He said these eye conditions are preventable or treatable if detected in time.
“At least 80 percent of all blindness and visual impairment is avoidable,” said Crail.
The St. John Eye Hospital Group’s CEO Dr. Ahmad Ma’ali said Dr. Ahmad Ma’ali said the result of this survey has influenced our strategic plan 2020-2022, that aims to eliminate the causes of avoidable blindness in Palestine.
The survey also suggests that the rate of blindness caused by diabetic retinopathy increased significantly between 2008 and 2018.
Patients with diabetes are more likely to be blind or vision impaired than non-diabetes patients. Around one third of those with diabetes are at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy which can lead to irreversible blindness if not treated.
Among patients with diabetes, 22% of those had never received check-ups and diabetic eye screening and examination.
People with any disability were three times more likely to have bilateral vision impairment than people without disabilities.
Financial hardship, fear of surgery, and lack of awareness that treatment is available are the key barries facing people which prevent them receiving the eye healthcare services they need. These barries put patients with cataract at risk of vision loss.
The prevalence of blindness was significantly higher in Gaza Strip compared to West Bank.
Blindness and vision impairment can be reduced in Palestine through comprehensive eyecare services such as sight-saving surgical procedures, effective management and intervention, health messaging and improving the infrastructure.
The Fred Hollows Foundation and St. John's Hospital Group are working together to build eye health capacity and infrastructure in Palestine in order to restore sight.
“The Foundation’s vision is a world in which no person is needlessly blind or vision impaired,” Crail said. “We work closely with our local partner to ensure effective cataract and refractive error treatments are accessible to all and DR can be affordably managed.”
He said The Foundation supported 1,064 cataract operations and 4,767 diabetic retinopathy treatments in Palestine in 2019.
The survey was conducted in collaboration with London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and St John Eye Hospital in East Jerusalem.
The study surveyed 3,848 people aged 50 years and older from Gaza Strip and West Bank.
It was conducted by a team of ophthalmologists, nurses, and coordinators and data was collected between July 2018 and April 2019.