Today, there are around 45 million blind people in the world and another 135 million with limited vision. The prevalence of blindness in the world’s poorest countries is as high as 1.5 per 1,000 children, compared with 0.3 per 1,000 in countries such as the UK. Every 5 seconds, another person goes blind. A child goes blind every minute. By 2020, the World Health Organization predicts that, if not tackled, these statistics will have doubled. In the developing world, blindness often leads to loss of independence, poverty and even death.
The positive news is that 80 per cent of the world's blindness is avoidable and prevention and treatment of vision loss are among the most cost-effective and successful of all health interventions. That is the focus of the work of the charity organisation Sight Savers International, which has been working all over the world on vision-related issues from sight restoration in Bangladesh to efforts to help the irreversibly blind in Africa.
Sight Savers helps children and adults who are irreversibly blind. Around 90 per cent of blind children do not attend school, leaving them dependent on their families. In countries like Kenya, Sight Savers is helping such children attend mainstream schools, a key to giving them an economic future and overcoming discrimination.
Sight Savers International was formed in the early 1950s by Sir John Wilson with the aim of helping more people in the world’s poorest countries to see again. It was originally known as the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind. The charity extended its work in Africa to India and Pakistan in the 1960s, setting up eye camps that treated thousands of people. In the 1970s the focus shifted to setting up permanent eye hospitals that are available year-round and to training eye doctors in developing countries. There are also extensive screening programmes aimed at catching eye problems early.
Sight Savers was integral to the launch of Vision 2020, a global initiative that aims to eliminate avoidable blindness by 2020. It now operates in 32 countries across the world and last year helped restore sight to 234,000 people and treated more than 12 million people for potentially blinding conditions.