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University of Iowa News Release

Oct. 10, 2003

UI Health Care Eye Specialists Call For Global Vision Care

Currently, 180 million people throughout the world suffer from vision loss and serious problems could be largely eliminated if people had access to sight-saving medical and surgical care.

October is World Blindness Awareness Month. Due to the lack of eye care throughout the world, every five seconds a person will lose their vision. Even more tragically, one child goes blind every minute.

"The five leading causes of blindness and vision loss worldwide are cataracts, trachoma, onchocerciasis, childhood blindness and uncorrected refractive errors," said Thomas Weingeist, M.D., Ph.D., head of the University of Iowa Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. "In the U.S., the main causes of blindness are diabetes, cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration."

Cataracts, a clouding of the eye's lens that obstructs the passage of light, are the leading cause of blindness worldwide. They usually develop as part of the aging process; however, they can result from eye injuries, certain diseases (diabetes) and genetic inheritance. Although cataracts cannot be prevented, once cataracts impair vision, they can be removed through cataract surgery.

"However, many people in developing countries don't have access to this sight-saving treatment," Weingeist added.

Trachoma is a chronic and contagious infection of the eyelid and cornea spread by contact with eye discharge from an infected individual and/or bacteria transmitted by an insect. There are currently 5.6 million people blind, visually impaired or at immediate risk of going blind from trachoma, making it responsible for 15 percent of the world's blindness.

Onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness, is a parasitic disease spread by the bite of the black fly that thrives in fertile riverside areas. An estimated 270,000 people are sightless from river blindness.

Weingeist stated, "Childhood blindness may be caused by vitamin A deficiency, measles infection or other deficiencies that have left more than 1.5 million children blind. The ways to combat childhood blindness include vitamin A supplements and making primary eye care and education readily available."

Refractive errors -- such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism and presbyopia -- are disorders, not diseases, Weingeist noted. "To ensure the more than 135 million people worldwide who are visually impaired are able to correct their refractive errors, refractive services, corrective glasses and low vision services need to be affordable and available to everyone," Weingeist said.

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STORY SOURCE: Joint Office for Planning, Marketing and Communications, University of Iowa Health Care, 200 Hawkins Drive, Room 8798 JPP, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1009.

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Moore, 319-356-3945,