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Epidemiology of visual impairment in Britain
  1. Jugnoo S Rahi,
  2. Carol Dezateux
  1. Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Institute of Child Health, 30 Guilford Street, London WC1N 1EH
  1. Dr Rahi.

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Since vision is the major sensory modality in humans, normal vision is important for the general development of a child.1 2 Visual impairment has significant implications for the affected child and family in terms of education, future employment, and personal and social welfare throughout life.

Using the World Health Organisation (WHO) classification of levels of visual impairment3 (shown in table 1 and used throughout this paper), it is estimated that globally almost one in 1000 children are blind, which is less than a tenth of the prevalence in adults.4 5 However, the 1.5 million blind children in the world account for about 75 million person years of blindness,6 equivalent to the burden due to cataract related blindness, which accounts for 40% of adult blindness worldwide.7 As the combined categories of low vision in childhood (table 1) are three to 10 times more common than blindness,5 6 the total burden of childhood visual impairment is considerable. It has been estimated that globally, the financial costs of childhood blindness incurred by countries, in terms of care and productivity lost, are between 6 and 27 thousand million US dollars.8 Most of this is accounted for by children in high income countries where childhood blindness is less common but life expectancy and earning capacity are greater than in low income countries. Reduction of avoidable visual impairment remains an important international public health goal.

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Table 1

WHO classification of levels of visual impairment (adapted from International Classification of Diseases, 10th revision3)

Knowledge of the magnitude and causes of childhood visual impairment is important to the planning, provision, and evaluation of educational and health services for affected children. This is also essential information for all strategies to reduce visual disability in the population. The purpose of this paper …

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