Indian Women Are 35% More Likely to Go Blind of Cataracts
A recent study states that Indian women are 69% more likely to develop a cataract than men and 35% more likely to go blind of it. The study, titled “Gender differences in blindness, cataract blindness and cataract surgical coverage in India,” also found that women were less likely to receive treatment for cataract surgery than men, which is a significant cause for the resulting blindness.
Approximately 1.3 billion people around the world live with some form of vision impairment, of which 36 million people are blind. These figures are only expected to rise unless there’s a better implementation of preventative measures. Globally, cataracts are one of the leading causes of vision impairment. While previous research has established that men and women suffer different rates of blindness, this recent study also postulates why.
The team of doctors from All India Institute Of Medical Sciences who put together this study analyzed 22 studies to find that the prevalence of blindness for Indian men was lower than that for Indian women. The study also stated that around 35% of the prevalence of blindness and 33% of the prevalence of cataract blindness in women are due to causes unique to women, such as living longer than men. Women were also 27% less likely to get cataract surgery.
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There are multiple potential causes for women going blind due to cataracts, even though they are completely fixable. The study states the prohibitive cost of cataract surgeries, loss of work for the patient and their attendant, and hospital stay as a common deterrent, caused by women having low disposable income and less financial control over their households. Other causes stated were the gendered restrictions placed on traveling outside villages and lack of community awareness about the procedure.
While the Government’s National Blindness Control Programme (NBCP), which has been active since the 1970s, has helped bring down the rate of blindness in India, major gaps still remain for the initiative to address. “We have seen that the program has catered to more men than women,” Sumit Malhotra, one of the authors of the study, told Down to Earth.
To help cope with the drastic gendered difference observed with respect to the prevalence of blindness in Indians above 50, the study recommends action from both cataract surgical programs and public health initiatives.
The researchers write, “Cataract surgical programs need to take cognizance of the fact that the utilization of their services is not uniform across genders; thus, consideration of gender differences is imperative when evaluating program implementation. Public health experts and community ophthalmology practitioners must consider targeting women specifically for efforts to curb blindness and evaluate local barriers to availing services.”
The study also called for further research to look into the barriers women face in seeking eye care and in the ways health care systems can help reduce the gender inequality observed in the number of blind people in India.