PETALING JAYA: About 80% of the blind population in the country is located in the interior areas of the east coast and East Malaysia because of poor access to proper medical facilities.
Tun Hussein Onn National Eye Hospital medical co-ordinator Datuk Dr Veera Ramani said people in these areas had little knowledge about blindness and eye care due to limited access to medical care and advice.
The blind population is mostly made up of the hardcore poor in rural areas, who cant afford medical care, she said, adding that the group included those above the age of 55.
Dr Veera said blindness was caused by conditions such as cataract and diabetes and could be prevented with early detection.
Those above 55 and diabetics should go for yearly eye check-ups to prevent potential problems. Parents should also monitor their childrens eyesight at a young age to avoid complications.
But many people take their eyesight for granted due to lack of knowledge or availability of proper medical care. Some people will wait until the last minute or when their condition has worsened before seeking treatment, she said during a press conference to announce the Avoidable Blindness Conference of Asia yesterday.
The two-day conference, from Jan 18, will be jointly organised by the hospital and the Group 7 Rotary Clubs of district 3300.
Dr Veera said although the hospital did provide a mobile eye screening unit and an operating theatre people in the rural areas, more help from NGOs and community organisations was needed to increase the number of units for rural folks.
She said it was important for eye care professionals, teachers and parents to educate the community on blindness, which could be prevented and treated.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 180 million people worldwide are visually disabled and about 40 to 45 million blind, she said, adding that 90% of the worlds blind population lived in developing countries.
Dr Veera said WHO estimated that by 2020, the number of blind people in the world would double unless action was taken to prevent it.
The hospitals management committee chairman, S. Kulasegaran, said the conference hoped to create greater awareness on avoidable blindness among medical practitioners and the public.