In Latin America and the Caribbean, cataract (opacification of the lens) is the single most important cause of blindness; cataract surgery has been shown to be one of the most cost effective interventions of all health care interventions. Cataract and uncorrected refractive error combined contributed to 55% of blindness and 77% of vision impairment in adults aged 50 years and older in the Region. Most cataracts are age-related and so cannot be prevented, but cataract surgery with the insertion of an intraocular lens (IOL) is highly effective, giving almost immediate visual rehabilitation.
In adults, cataract surgery is associated with improvements in quality of life and household economic circumstances, indicative of positive transitions out of poverty. Reducing disability adjusted life years (DALYs) from vision impairment is achievable by delivery of eyeglasses for refractive errors and curative surgery for cataracts.
Since 1990, the prevalence of blindness has been reduced in the region. In 2015, 0.4% of the population in the Region of the Americas was found to suffer from blindness. Additionally, 2.1% of the population had severe or moderate visual impairment. In people over 50 years of age, 1.7% was blind and 8.0% had severe or moderate visual impairment.
What still needs to be done?
- Increase provision of cataract surgical services to underserved population in each country
- Measure prevalence of cataract blindness, coverage of services and barriers in selected countries