One of the underreported tragedies of our time is that nearly 90% of the world’s blind live in low-income countries, the World Economic Forum reports.
The main cause of this often needless and frequently avoidable blindness is cataracts, which affect 95 million people worldwide. In low- and middle-income countries cataracts account for 50% of all blindness, compared to just 5% of blindness in developed countries.
Cataracts are not that difficult or even expensive to cure when there is access to affordable eye care. Studies have shown that the socioeconomic effects of cataract surgery are substantial: it allows people to increase their economic productivity by up to 1,500% of the cost of the surgery just during the first postoperative year.
But there are many non-monetary benefits of curing blindness, including increased education, gender equality, reduced child mortality, improved self-esteem, health costs averted and expanded social networks.
Studies have repeatedly shown that one of the fastest routes to poverty reduction is to empower women — and of the 39 million blind people in the world, 64% are girls and women. Women account for nearly 75% of cataract blindness, and they do not receive surgery at the same rate as men. In some parts of Africa, the risk of going blind from trachoma is now up to four times greater for women than it is for men.
Blindness also causes people to become poor. A review on poverty and its consequences in developing nations found that 64% of those living in poverty with disabilities were not in poverty before the onset of the disability. Some 90% of blind individuals in poor communities cannot work.