NEW DELHI: Glaucoma, known commonly as the "silent thief of sight", is making 1.2 lakh Indians blind annually. Yet, an Asian survey presented at the World Ophthalmology Congress in Hong Kong on Monday has made the startling revelation that over 74% Indians don’t know what glaucoma is and over 72% have never undergone an eye pressure test or tonometry that determines fluid pressure inside the eye. Increased pressure within the eye is a sign of glaucoma. Malaysia too is no better with 70% of its population unaware of the disease. The “All Eyes on Glaucoma” survey conducted in nine Asian countries and endorsed by the World Glaucoma Association found some other Asian countries to be much better off — nearly 74% Chinese, 70% from Korea and Thailand, 63% from Philippines, 60% from Hong Kong and 58% in Taiwan were aware of the condition. Over two-thirds of Indians (68%) had increased risk of developing glaucoma, mainly due to short sight, eye injuries and high blood pressure. Even though six in 10 Indian respondents (61%) in the study underwent regular eye examination, tonometry was found to be uncommon — over 72% Indians have never had their eye pressure checked. However, in this category, some Asian countries — Korea (86%), Singapore (74%) and China (73%) — were worse off than India. The study says that between 2010 and 2020, India will be the world’s glaucoma capital. Only 10% of people with glaucoma have been diagnosed compared to 50% in Europe. The number of blind people, which is at present 12 million in India, is predicted to increase to 24.1 million in 2020. By implementing strategies to prevent blindness due to glaucoma, the study says 3.6 million people could be saved from blindness in the year 2020 alone. The findings have made the Union health ministry decide to step up its fight against glaucoma. From the 11th five-year Plan’s budget of Rs 1,250 crore, around Rs 60 crore is being set aside especially for diagnosis, control and awareness programmes on glaucoma. Ophthalmologists in 120 government hospitals are being trained in glaucoma diagnosis and management. Advanced tonometry machines, each costing Rs 2 lakh, are being purchased for the government hospitals while 50 medical colleges will be given the advanced automatic perimeter to study the patient's visual field. Dr R Josh, additional director-general in the health ministry, told TOI: "Glaucoma, which causes irreversible blindness, is behind 4% of the 12 million blind people in India. Of the 3 million new cases of blindness every year, 4% are because of glaucoma. So it is vital that all men and women above age 40 get a regular tonometry test done." Glaucoma is a silent disease because most types cause no pain and produce no symptoms. Glaucoma, therefore, progresses undetected until the optic nerve has already been irreversibly damaged, with varying degrees of permanent vision loss.
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