Two Out of Every Three Blind in India are Women

NEW DELHI – Nearly two million people are blind in India but what is startling is that around 66 percent of them are women, government authorities and experts said Thursday, observed as the World Sight Day (WSD).

This year, the focus was on gender and eye care. G.V.S Murthy, a professor of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), said that out of every three blind in the country, two are women and there is need to bring a gender equity while providing eye care.

He said there was a general assumption that what worked for men worked for women, but this was not true. There were several obstacles beginning from illiteracy, difference in roles and responsibility in decision making, and poverty which resulted in health care for men as a priority.

“There is gender disparity in health services at secondary and tertiary levels where most of the ophthalmologists were men. There is a need to look at empowering women, increasing their physical mobility and economic security,” Murthy said.

Speaking on the occasion, Shalini Prasad, joint secretary in the central health ministry, rued: “Women do not have access because of their gender. We tend to forget that women and girl child cannot reach health facilities due to a number of barriers. To make gender equality a reality, there is a need to make health care accessible.”

Experts said that as more old women are blind, perhaps more financial aid could be given to them. Women to women approach which has more empathy could be one of the steps that could bridge the gender inequality, they said.

G.N. Rao, who heads the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, said: “As an advocacy tool, the World Sight Day has served its purpose successfully as blindness now is considered as a priority issue in all the health organisations around the world”.

He also endorsed the work of government and private organisations on their initiative called Vision 2020: the Right to Sight.

As a beginning, five pilot projects in poor socio-economic strata of society could be started to demonstrate gender equity, which then could be replicated, he suggested.

As many as two million people in India are corneally blind. Every year, 30,000 more are added to this figure. Half of the people suffering from this can get their sight restored through corneal graft surgery. However, against the annual demand for 100,000 corneas, only 16,000 are available.

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