216,000 Malaysians have become blind after delaying cataract surgery according to a 2014 National Eye Survey, a study which also found that the condition caused 272,000 others to be visually impaired.

“The survey also found 63,000 Malaysians aged 50 years and above who were blind with 60% of them treatable, while 350,000 of people in same age group had low vision with 80% of them treatable,” said Selayang Hospital ophthalmologist Dr Mohamad Aziz Salowi.

Early detection and treatment of cataract necessary

He posited that one of the reasons leading to the high statistics of cataract cases in the country was due to the ambivalent attitude of patients with operable cataracts who do not see the importance to have cataract surgery.

Mohamad also said that the government has already initiated Klinik Katarak 1Malaysia (KK1M) in 2013 to reach out and provide cataract surgery services to the under-served population residing in remote or rural areas.

"KK1M was established because cataract is identified as one of the main factors to blindness and vision problems in Malaysia,” said Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) Director Dr Heric Corray.

"The society should be made aware that vision problems can be corrected if a cataract problem is detected and treated at an early stage," he said, stressing that regular checks are important as a preventive measure against cataract.

According to Corray, patients often assume that vision problems are due to old age which do not necessitate further treatment.

"Early treatment is vital especially when symptoms of cataracts develop like cloudy and blurry vision, double vision, glare during the day and sudden changes in the glasses prescription,” he stressed.

Cataract not the only cloud in sight

According to Mohamad, the second commonest cause of blindness in Malaysia is diabetic eye disease, which makes up 10% of total cases for blindness and 6% for low vision. Glaucoma was the third leading cause of blindness, constituting 7% of blindness cases and 2% for low vision.

Meanwhile in Singapore, an estimated 150,000 out of 180,000 people have eye conditions that are undiagnosed, based on a study done by the Singapore National Eye Centre and Singapore Eye Research Institute between years 2011 and 2014.

Additionally, a separate multi-year study conducted by the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) and the Singapore Eye Research Institute (SERI), jointly conducted with the National University of Singapore (NUS), which included 928 children aged seven to nine years from 1999, revealed that the severity of a child’s short-sightedness increases by 100 degrees later in childhood for ever year younger in age that a he first develops myopia.

According to Professor Seang-Mei Saw, head of the myopia unit at SERI, the age of onset is “the most important determining factor” of severe myopia later in life.

Singapore is one of the countries with the highest prevalence of myopia in children aged seven to nine years, and short-sightedness has become a significant public health problem. It has been predicted that by 2050, approximately five million residents in Singapore will have myopia, as those with the visual problem with remain short-sighted for the rest of their lives.

According to Saw, children should spend at least two to three hours a day outdoors as the light levels from the Sun are much higher than that from artificial bulbs.

“The drastically higher light levels outdoors can release a chemical called dopamine in the eye that can stop the development of myopia… and keep the eye in a normal state,” said the professor, who added that the broader colour spectrum emitted from sunlight could also prevent the onset of myopia. MIMS

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