Four out of five people who are blind do not need to be

11 October is World Sight Day

A woman smiles following sight restoring cataract surgery in Viet Nam. Her patch will be removed less than 24 hours after the operation.

Four out of five of the blind could recover their eyesight with adequate treatment.

On this World Sight Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) Western Pacific urges greater attention to the prevention and treatment of blindness. WHO works with Member States to reduce avoidable blindness using cost-effective strategies.

Worldwide, there are 39 million people who are blind and a further 246 million people with poor vision that impairs their daily lives. Of those, 10 million blind people and 79 million with poor vision live in the Western Pacific Region.

The leading cause of blindness in the world and in the Western Pacific Region is cataract – a clouding of the lens, a natural process that usually comes with age. However, in developed countries, almost no one goes blind from it. A simple operation fixes cataract blindness by removing the clouded lens and replacing it with a plastic one. This relatively straightforward surgery is highly effective, yet many people in low- and middle-income countries do not have access to the surgery.

Other main causes of blindness in the Western Pacific Region include glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. For these diseases, early diagnosis is crucial to avoid irreversible vision loss. Any patient accessing the health system in their community should have access to important information on how to avoid blindness and to a quality referral system that can detect people with potentially blinding eye disease.

This level of care is not always available, particularly in the low- and middle-income countries in the Region, which are disproportionately affected by avoidable blindness. Surveys indicate that globally, 90% of people with blindness or low vision live in low-income countries. Within these countries, disadvantaged and vulnerable communities are the worst affected and this reflects the linkages of eye health to poverty and education.

WHO is coordinating international efforts in reducing avoidable blindness and visual impairment. In the Western Pacific Region, a dedicated WHO Programme for the Prevention of Blindness was established in 2011. Good eye health is a development and equity issue, and the WHO programme is supporting low- and middle-income countries in their efforts to improve quality access to eye-care services, especially for poor people. Activities include the support of human resource development and of increased access to eye health services for rural and poor populations.

On World Sight Day, many countries in the Region will celebrate the good progress made in the reduction of avoidable blindness and visual impairment. Activities around the Region will raise awareness of avoidable blindness as a public health problem that not only affects the patient but also their families and communities.

WHO also promotes the reduction of blindness through its partnership with the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, an umbrella organization that works with nongovernmental organizations involved in eye care.

For more information, please contact

Dr Andreas Mueller
Technical Officer, Prevention of Blindness
Tel: +63 2 528 9885
E-mail: muellera@wpro.who.int

Dr Hai-Rim Shin
Team Leader, Noncommunicable Diseases and Health Promotion
Tel: +63 2 528 6890
E-mail: shinh@wpro.who.int

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