Untreated cataract and uncorrected refractive error are major causes of visual impairment in the country, according to the findings of the second rapid assessment of avoidable blindness in Bhutan. The study was done from December 2017 to February 2018.

According to health officials, cataract is treatable with surgery and refractive error with glasses.

The survey was done to estimate the prevalence of blindness and visual impairment, its causes and cataract services, and assess the impact of the existing eye care programme in Bhutan.

A total of 4,970 participants, all aged 50 years and older living in a household for six months or more from all the dzongkhags were examined for the survey. Visitors and those who were unable to communicate and those who refused were excluded.

According to the survey, 88.9 percent of blindness and visual impairment were avoidable.

During the fourth international conference on medical and health sciences in Thimphu last month, optometrist with the national referral hospital, Indra Prasad Sharma, said prevalence of blindness increases with increasing age. “Blindness and visual impairment is a global public health challenge.”

Females accounted for 68.4 percent of blindness and 75 percent of cataract blindness. It states that cataract surgical coverage stood at 86.1 percent with better coverage in men and urban population.

Good cataract surgical outcome was achieved in 66.3 percent and the leading cause of poor outcome was ocular comorbidity at 43.6 percent.

Although avoidable cause of blindness still remains high, there has been a decrease in the prevalence of blindness by 33 percent since 2009.

Indra Prasad Sharma said that Bhutan meets the WHO Global Health Action Plan target of 25 percent blindness reduction from its baseline survey of 2009.

In the past eight years, eye care services in the country have improved. He said that to further reduce blindness and visual impairment, Bhutan should continue to implement a long-term strategic action plan for eye health focused on strengthening primary eye care and comprehensive eye care service.

The first blindness and visual impairment survey in Bhutan was conducted in 2009.

Dechen Tshomo