Visual impairment - blindness - is another health issue that has been given limited attention in spite its impact on afflicted Filipinos. Already, the Department of Health warned that more than 2 million people in the country suffer from low vision in both eyes, where even with eyeglasses, contact lenses, medication or surgery, a person is unable to see clearly. At the same time, DOH reported that at least 300,000 Filipinos are bilaterally blind or are totally unable to see.

Cataract is the major cause of blindness in the country, accounting for 33 percent (109,609 cases). On the other hand, 83,037 was caused by error of refraction (25 percent), while 14 percent of the 332,150 cases was attributed to glaucoma (46,501).

Other causes of blindness are maculopathy and retinopathy. 

Latest statistics show 2,179,733 Filipinos having bilateral low vision, caused mostly by EOR (937,285), followed by cataract at 34 percent with 741,109 cases. Glaucoma and other eye diseases caused the remaining cases.

Worldwide, there are 285 million people who are visually impaired, according to the World Health Organization. Of the number, 246 million were diagnosed with low vision, while 39 million were blind.

Considering the physical and social consequences of visual impairment, the DOH is pushing to address this health issue through a new National Policy on the Prevention of Blindness program.

In a statement, the Health department said: "Avoidable blindness left unaddressed, particularly for those who are blind or have severe visual impairment, results in reduced functional ability and loss of self-esteem, and contributes towards the reduction of the quality of life."

The department is aiming for local government units to adapt eye care programs which focus on avoidable blindness (cataract, EOR, childhood diseases and emerging eye diseases) in conceptualizing health programmes.

Its Prevent of Blindness programme is targetting "right of sight" for every Filipino by 2020.

The Philippines is a signatory to the Global Elimination of Avoidable Blindness: Vision 2020 - The Right to Sight.

Health chief Paulyn Ubial said, "I would like to assure the public that DOH is serious in its mandate and commitment to ensure that every Filipino, particularly the poor, indigent and marginalized, has access to affordable and quality eye care."

The new policy is in line with the current Philippine Health Agenda.

August has been declared Sight Saving Month, and this year carries the theme "Universal Eye Health: No More Avoidable Blindness." MIMS

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