The first national survey on eye health in Papua New Guinea (PNG) has found the prevalence of blindness among people aged 50 years and older is 5.6 per cent, one of the highest rates in the world.
The study, published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, found the major causes of blindness and vision impairment are cataract and uncorrected refractive error. The authors state that an increase in services, resources and efforts to improve eye health literacy among the population are needed.1
Cataract surgical coverage (32.9 per cent) was low compared to the median of 53.7 per cent across low- and middle-income countries in Asia, Africa and South America. People in the Highlands are especially disadvantaged as only 9.2 per cent of women and 25 per cent of men had received surgery needed.
Lead author on the study, Dr. Ling Lee from Brien Holden Vision Institute, said primary barriers for people getting cataract surgery were being unaware treatment was possible, reporting they didn’t feel a need for treatment, and costs involved.
The study also found “poorer than expected outcomes” from cataract surgery (outcomes were below the WHO recommended target). “We believe that difficult terrain and the absence of road infrastructure hinder patients travelling to health facilities, which could be a factor in people not receiving necessary postoperative care, and an explanation for this finding,” said Dr. Lee.
The research found a significant gender disparity – with rates of blindness in women (7.0 per cent) significantly higher than men (4.4 per cent). As well as the imbalance in cataract surgical coverage, 79.1 per cent of women with refractive error did not have appropriate correction, compared with 61.3 per cent of men.
- Lee L, D’Esposito F, Garap J, et al. Rapid assessment of avoidable blindness in Papua New Guinea: a nationwide survey Br J Ophthalmol Epub ahead of print: doi:10.1136/ bjophthalmol-2017-311802