KUALA LUMPUR – Research data published by the journal Lancet Global Health showed that there were 36 million blind people in the world in 2015, with more than 216 million having moderate to severe visual impairment.
Projections from the research showed that if the increment remains constant, then there would be 38.5 million blind people by the year 2020, and more than 114 million by the year 2050, with changes mostly due to population increases and global ageing.
The Asian region was found to have the highest numbers of blindness with 11.7 million people in South Asia, 6.2 million in East Asia and 3.5 million in Southeast Asia.
In areas where people earn low incomes, treatment for various causes of visual impairment is not as widely available and many have to rely on foundations and government support.
In China, a country estimated to have the largest amount of blind people, The Lifeline Express, a non-profit organization started in Hong Kong and inspired by the original Lifeline Express from India, operates a rainbow-colored hospital train that offers free cataract surgeries to patients in remote and poverty-stricken areas.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), chronic eye diseases are the main cause of vision loss worldwide and unoperated cataracts is the leading cause of blindness in low-income countries, while 80 percent of all vision impairment can be prevented or cured. People who remain untreated or have incurable visual impairment must learn to live with being unable to see.
However, many local communities are working to ensure that blind people aren’t left in the dark, and organize activities and other supports to help them cope with blindness. Those who have had their eyes removed in surgery or lost them due to an accident can take comfort in having an ocular prosthesis made, which replaces the natural eye.
Several job opportunities are available for people with vision impairment. A common form of employment for the blind in Asia is massage therapy, with many institutions teaching massage to the visually impaired, where they are praised for their increased sensitivity to touch.
Some institutions provide further education in a variety of fields including sales, agriculture, handicrafts and business.
Several sports are being adapted for the blind, such as blind soccer, where players navigate on the field with the help of sound cues from the ball and other players and is part of the Paralympic Sports.
In August at the 2017 ASEAN Para Games in Bukit Jalil, Malaysia, Thailand took on Malaysia’s team in five-a-side soccer, where five-member teams chase a special ball in which a bell is inserted, allowing the players to hear where the ball goes, an epa journalist reported.
Though the pace of the game is slower than that of conventional soccer, it nonetheless gives blind athletes the chance to compete internationally.
Education is key for helping the visually impaired fit into society, with many foundations and educational establishments providing special programs to teach necessary skills for quality of life improvement.
Some institutions offer full-time courses ranging from kindergarten to higher education, while others provide programs for children of kindergarten age to prepare them to be integrated into standard classrooms for students with normal vision.