Inter-regional trends in causes of childhood blindness and low vision in Ghana

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BackgroundInter-regional trends of visual loss in most developing countries remain largely unknown. We compared the causes of childhood blindness among children attending blind schools in the northern (one school) and southern (two schools) regions of Ghana and assessed their need for spectacles and low-vision devices.MethodsUsing a standardised methodology, children were examined by an ophthalmologist and optometrists in each location. Causes of visual loss were classified anatomically and by time of onset, and avoidable causes identified. Children identified with functional low vision were assessed and provided with low-vision devices.ResultsA total of 252 children under 16 years of age were examined in the schools. The overall prevalence of total blindness was 73 (29.0 per cent), with similar proportions (p = 0.87) in the north (29 [28.4 per cent]) and south (44 [29.3 per cent]); 92 (36.5 per cent) had functional low vision. Two children improved with spectacles and 35 benefited from low-vision devices. Corneal scarring was significantly (p = 0.045) more prevalent in southern Ghana (n = 150) than in the north (n = 102), responsible for visual loss in 36 (24.0 per cent, 95% CI 17.2–30.8 per cent) and 14 (13.7 per cent, 95% CI 7.0–20.4 per cent) cases, respectively. No significant difference (p = 0.321) was observed in the prevalence of cataract between northern (28: 27.5 per cent, 95% CI 18.3–36.2 per cent) and southern Ghana (33: 22.0 per cent, 95% CI 15.4–28.6 per cent). Over 87 per cent of children had ‘avoidable’ causes of visual loss, with a higher proportion being treatable (124: 49.2 per cent) than preventable (96: 38 per cent).ConclusionCataract was the major cause of visual loss in the overall population. The south had a higher proportion of corneal scarring and late-onset blindness compared with the north. More than one-third of blindness in blind schools in Ghana could have been prevented by primary care interventions and nearly half could have been treated surgically to prevent visual loss. Two in five children in blind schools in Ghana could benefit from optical intervention.

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