Aims: To assess the prevalence of vision impairment, blindness, and cataract surgery and to evaluate visual acuity outcomes after cataract surgery in a south Indian population.
Methods: Cluster sampling was used to randomly select a cross sectional sample of people > or =50 years of age living in the Tirunelveli district of south India. Eligible subjects in 28 clusters were enumerated through a door to door household survey. Visual acuity measurements and ocular examinations were performed at a selected site within each of the clusters in early 2000. The principal cause of visual impairment was identified for eyes with presenting visual acuity <6/18. Independent replicate testing for quality assurance monitoring was performed in subjects with reduced vision and in a sample of those with normal vision for six of the study clusters.
Results: A total of 5795 people in 3986 households were enumerated and 5411 (93.37%) were examined. The prevalence of presenting and best corrected visual acuity > or =6/18 in both eyes was 59.4% and 75.7%, respectively. Presenting vision <6/60 in both eyes (the definition of blindness in India) was found in 11.0%, and in 4.6% with best correction. Presenting blindness was associated with older age, female sex, and illiteracy. Cataract was the principal cause of blindness in at least one eye in 70.6% of blind people. The prevalence of cataract surgery was 11.8%-with an estimated 56.5% of the cataract blind already operated on. Surgical coverage was inversely associated with illiteracy and with female sex in rural areas. Within the cataract operated sample, 31.7% had presenting visual acuity > or =6/18 in both eyes and 11.8% were <6/60; 40% were bilaterally operated on, with 63% pseudophakic. Presenting vision was <6/60 in 40.7% of aphakic eyes and in 5.1% of pseudophakic eyes; with best correction the percentages were 17.6% and 3.7%, respectively. Refractive error, including uncorrected aphakia, was the main cause of visual impairment in cataract operated eyes. Vision <6/18 was associated with cataract surgery in government, as opposed to that in non-governmental/private facilities. Age, sex, literacy, and area of residence were not predictors of visual outcomes.
Conclusion: Treatable blindness, particularly that associated with cataract and refractive error, remains a significant problem among older adults in south Indian populations, especially in females, the illiterate, and those living in rural areas. Further study is needed to better understand why a significant proportion of the cataract blind are not taking advantage of free of charge eye care services offered by the Aravind Eye Hospital and others in the district. While continuing to increase cataract surgical volume to reduce blindness, emphasis must also be placed on improving postoperative visual acuity outcomes.