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Rapid assessment of avoidable blindness in Western Rwanda: blindness in a postconflict setting.


BACKGROUND: The World Health Organization estimates that there were 37 million blind people in 2002 and that the prevalence of blindness was 9% among adults in Africa aged 50 years or older. Recent surveys indicate that this figure may be overestimated, while a survey from southern Sudan suggested that postconflict areas are particularly vulnerable to blindness. The aim of this study was to conduct a Rapid Assessment for Avoidable Blindness to estimate the magnitude and causes of visual impairment in people aged > or = 50 y in the postconflict area of the Western Province of Rwanda, which includes one-quarter of the population of Rwanda.

METHODS AND FINDINGS: Clusters of 50 people aged > or = 50 y were selected through probability proportionate to size sampling. Households within clusters were selected through compact segment sampling. Visual acuity (VA) was measured with a tumbling "E" chart, and those with VA below 6/18 in either eye were examined by an ophthalmologist. The teams examined 2,206 people (response rate 98.0%). The unadjusted prevalence of bilateral blindness was 1.8% (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.2%-2.4%), 1.3% (0.8%-1.7%) for severe visual impairment, and 5.3% (4.2%-6.4%) for visual impairment. Most bilateral blindness (65%) was due to cataract. Overall, the vast majority of cases of blindness (80.0%), severe visual impairment (67.9%), and visual impairment (87.2%) were avoidable (i.e.. due to cataract, refractive error, aphakia, trachoma, or corneal scar). The cataract surgical coverage was moderate; 47% of people with bilateral cataract blindness (VA < 3/60) had undergone surgery. Of the 29 eyes that had undergone cataract surgery, nine (31%) had a best-corrected poor outcome (i.e., VA < 6/60). Extrapolating these estimates to Rwanda's Western Province, among the people aged 50 years or above 2,565 are expected to be blind, 1,824 to have severe visual impairment, and 8,055 to have visual impairment.

CONCLUSIONS: The prevalence of blindness and visual impairment in this postconflict area in the Western Province of Rwanda was far lower than expected. Most of the cases of blindness and visual impairment remain avoidable, however, suggesting that the implementation of an effective eye care service could reduce the prevalence further.

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Journal Article
Mathenge W
Nkurikiye J
Limburg H
Kuper H