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BMJ Glob Health. 2017 Jun 10;2(2):e000264. doi: 10.1136/bmjgh-2016-000264. eCollection 2017.

Causes of severe visual impairment and blindness in students in schools for the blind in Northwest Ethiopia.

Author information

1
Univesity of Gondar, Department of Ophthalmology, Gondar, Ethiopia.
2
University of Leicester, Department of Ophthalmology, Leicester, UK.
3
Clinical Research, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK.

Abstract

Objectives:

To determine the causes of severe visual impairment and blindness (SVI/BL) among students in schools for the blind in Northwest Ethiopia and to identify preventable and treatable causes.

Method:

Students attending nine schools for the blind in Northwest Ethiopia were examined and causes assigned using the standard WHO record form for children with blindness and low vision in May and June 2015.

Results:

383 students were examined, 357 (93%) of whom were severely visually impaired or blind (<6/60 in their better eye). 253 (70.9%) were aged 16 years or above and 228 (63.9%) were males. 100 students aged <16 years were blind and four were SVI, total 104. The major anatomical site of visual loss among those 0-15 years was cornea/phthisis (47.1%), usually due to measles and vitamin A deficiency, followed by whole globe (22.1%), lens (9.6%) and uvea (8.7%). Among students aged 16 years and above, corneal/phthisis (76.3%) was the major anatomical cause, followed by lens (6.3%), whole globe (4.7%), uvea (3.6%) and optic nerve (3.2%). The leading underlying aetiology among students aged <16 years was childhood factors (39.4%) (13.5% measles, 10.6% vitamin A deficiency), followed by unknown aetiology (54.8%), perinatal (2.9%) and hereditary factors (2.9%). In the older group, childhood factors (72.3%) (25% measles, 15% vitamin A deficiency) were major causes, followed by unknown aetiology (24.1%), perinatal (2.4%) and hereditary factors (0.8%). Over 80% of the causes were avoidable with majority being potentially preventable (65%).

Conclusion:

Corneal blindness, mainly as the result of measles and vitamin A deficiency, is still a public health problem in Northwest Ethiopia, and this has not changed as observed in other low-income countries. More than three-fourth of causes of SVI/BL in students in schools for the blind are potentially avoidable, with measles/vitamin A deficiency and cataract being the leading causes.

KEYWORDS:

Child health; Descriptive study

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