ORBIS International, a non-profit humanitarian organization, teaches surgical techniques for corneal blindness in developing countries. Corneal blindness encompasses a range of eye conditions that ultimately affect the transparency of the cornea, leading to blindness. Attacking the root causes of corneal blindness is the best path to blindness prevention.
Causes of corneal blindness include:
This baby's eyes have clouded over
because of corneal disease.
- Vitamin A deficiency
- The aftereffects of bacterial, fungal, or viral infections
- Eye trauma
- Congenital disease
- Traditional medicine or home remedies, which often harm the eye rather than relieve pain or improve eyesight
How common is corneal blindness?
According to the World Health Organization, corneal blindness is the world’s fourth leading cause of blindness, following cataract, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.
Trachoma, an infectious disease endemic in poor, rural pockets of the developing world, is the leading cause of corneal blindness, with approximately 4.9 million people blinded by it.
Vitamin A deficiency, associated with severe malnutrition, is the leading cause of pediatric corneal blindness. Approximately 350,000 children are blinded by vitamin A deficiency each year. Most of these children die within a year of going blind.
Corneal blindness prevention
Corneal blindness prevention depends on which corneal disease is being addressed. For instance, preventive measures for trachoma include hygienic practices to stop the spread of the disease, such as the building of latrines, which reduces the number of trachoma-carrying flies, and an emphasis on facial cleanliness. Eye lid surgery, done in a timely manner, can prevent the abrasive action of eyelashes turned inward during the later stages of trachoma. Increased training in pediatric ophthalmology can further awareness of threats to children.
Preventive measures for malnutrition include distribution of vitamin A supplements and the introduction of foods rich in vitamin A, such as green, leafy vegetables, fish and liver.
Preventive measures for infections passed from mother to newborn include prenatal care, such as rubella vaccination to prevent the occurrence of severe ocular disease in the newborn, including corneal clouding.
In addition, harmful traditional medicine practices need to be discouraged through public education, and safe practices regarding eye health should be adhered to.
Treatment of corneal blindness
Treatment of corneal blindness depends on the underlying disease or condition. Corneal transplants can cure some types of corneal diseases, such as keratoconus, as long as the cornea has sufficient lubrication and protection by the eyelids. But eye banks that provide corneal tissue for transplantation are not available in most developing countries, and most ophthalmologists in those countries lack the specialized training required for this type of surgery.
What ORBIS is doing about corneal blindness in developing countries
ORBIS has more than 20 long-term projects dealing with corneal blindness prevention and treatment. Activities include:
- Distributing the antibiotic Zithromax to those with trachoma
- Training nurses in trachoma-related eyelid surgery
- Training ophthalmologists in corneal transplantation
- Launching campaigns to establish new eye banks and increase corneal donations
For more information on corneal disease, see: