The Royal National Institute of Blind People reports that visually impaired women account for 64.5% of the total number of visually impaired people in the world. Furthermore, women are more susceptible to sight loss, with one in four women compared to one in eight men experiencing it.
In low and middle-income countries, women’s eye health is particularly affected due to factors such as limited access to healthcare, lack of education, and difficulty in travelling to hospitals. The Lancet Global Health 2020 publication estimates that about 596 million people receive some form of visual aid, such as glasses or contact lenses, with untreated vision impairments affecting 510 million people, the majority of whom reside in low and middle-income countries. Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide, followed by refractive errors and glaucoma.
Although cataracts and refractive errors can be treated, glaucoma can only be managed. Despite the existence of affordable medical solutions for cataracts, many people worldwide still suffer from this treatable condition.
How common are cataracts?
Cataracts are common in older individuals and can cause complete vision loss if left untreated. Approximately 30% of people over 65 years old in England reportedly have visually impairing cataracts in one or both eyes, and around 330,000 people undergo cataract surgery each year. However, individuals in low-income countries do not always have access to healthcare services such as the NHS, and the gender gap in cataract surgeries can be attributed to various factors.
Social, economic, and cultural differences contribute to the disparity between men and women in receiving cataract surgery. Women, particularly in rural areas, often have less disposable income to cover living expenses while recovering from surgery. Even if they have the financial means, they may lack the freedom to control their own finances, which can lead to transportation issues. Cultural traditions that inform gender roles also play a part in the number of women receiving medical treatment, as illiteracy rates are higher among girls and women in South Asian countries.
Cataract surgical coverage
Cataract surgical coverage (CSC) is 27% lower among women than men in India. Experts suggest that more emphasis should be placed on female patients in low-income countries to produce equal CSC. High-income countries such as Sweden and France have a more level playing field, with female cataract surgeries accounting for 59%-66% of all cataract surgeries from 1992 to 2012.
Eye Health Gender Gap
To reduce the gender gap in cataract surgery in low-income countries, officials from universities in China and Australia, as well as the WHO, suggest reducing surgery costs, increasing appointment flexibility, reducing the need for family accompaniment, providing transport, and holding educational outreach programs.
Improving eye health has numerous benefits, including improved quality of life, reduced mortality rates, increased productivity, and the narrowing of the gender equality gap. By contributing to a healthy vision globally, society is closer to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to build a healthy and prosperous population and environment by 2030.
The Tej Kohli & Ruit Foundation was founded in March 2021 by London philanthropist Tej Kolhi and Kathmandu ‘God of Sight’ Dr Sanduk Ruit. As of November 2022 the NGO had screened 170,022 patients and cured 22,663of blindness at 91 outreach camps in Nepal, Bhutan and Ghana. The Tej Kohli & Ruit Foundation is a restricted fund operating under the auspices of Prism The Gift Fund, registered UK charity number 1099682. The Foundation targets the #1 United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of reducing poverty by making large-scale surgical interventions to cure blindness at the grassroots in the developing world. All treatments are provided completely free, with 100% of the funding coming from Tej Kohli and the Kohli family.