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Cataracts – the leading cause of blindness in children

Cataract is not only a problem for the elderly – it is the leading cause of avoidable blindness in children. Early intervention is crucial to the successful treatment of cataracts and other blinding conditions. Of the estimated 100 000* children in South Africa who are blind or severely visually impaired, about half would still be able to see, had they received appropriate treatment in good time.

A cataract is a clouding of the lens which blocks light from reaching the retina. “Cataracts that become evident from birth are usually hereditary or developmental, the result of a problem with lens formation in the womb,” says Dr Dharmesh Parbhoo, ophthalmologist at the ORBIS Paediatric Eye Care Centre in Durban. “Children can also develop traumatic cataracts later in life due to an injury to the eye or head, a cause that is all too common in South Africa.”

According to a new report Child Eye Health in Africa – The Status and the Way Forward, co-written by not-for-profit organisation ORBIS and the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF), sub-Saharan Africa has the highest incidence of childhood blindness in the world. ORBIS’ mission is to ensure that no child should be condemned to a life of blindness due to cataracts and other treatable conditions. Reshma Dabideen, co-author of the report and senior programme advisor for ORBIS Africa says “early detection and intervention is critical, ideally before age six.”

“Don’t ignore any signs,” warns Dr Parbhoo. “If eye problems are left too late the visual pathways between the brain and eye may never develop correctly.”

How can you identify a potential cataract?

• Whiteness or opaqueness in the eye
• A white spot on the pupil
• Any signs that your child cannot see well

Should you notice any of these signs insist on an eye test at your local clinic or optometrist. ORBIS has worked to prevent blindness around the world for over 30 years and in South Africa since 2011. For expert information or to support ORBIS in the fight to save sight visit / / 021 447 7135 /

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