Vision Impairment and Ocular Morbidity in a Refugee Population in Malawi

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Abstract

Purpose

To provide screening services and obtain information on the eye health status and distribution of visual impairments in a refugee population of the sole refugee camp in Malawi.

Methods

A general eye screening at Dzaleka refugee settlement camp was organized in November 2012. Final-year optometry students conducted detailed optometry examinations, including visual acuity (VA) assessment for near and distance, retinoscopy, and subjective refraction in cases with distance VA less than 6/12 or near VA less than N8, anterior and posterior segment evaluation. Their findings were then verified by an optometrist. The World Health Organization definition of vision impairment was followed, and the cause of vision impairment was determined at the end of each examination. Where possible, participants requiring refractive correction were provided spectacles free of cost.

Results

Of a total 635 participants examined, around one-half were male with 61% in the 16 to 49 years age group. The overall prevalence of presenting blindness, severe vision impairment, and vision impairment were 1.3% (95% confidence interval [95% CI], 0.5 to 2.4), 0.5% (95% CI, 0.0 to 1.1), and 3.6% (95% CI, 2.3 to 5.2), respectively. Overall vision impairment (VA <6/18) was present in 5.4% (95% CI, 3.6 to 7.1) of the participants. The principal causes of blindness, severe vision impairment, and vision impairment were cataracts, refractive errors, and corneal opacities, respectively; and more than 90% of the overall vision impairment was avoidable. Refractive errors and presbyopia were the most common morbidity, present in more than two-thirds of the participants examined. Only 5% of all the participants ever had a previous eye examination.

Conclusions

The prevalence and causes of blindness and vision impairment in a refugee population are comparable with those of the general population. Lack of basic eye care services in the health center for refugees is a major concern. The health care facility in the settlement camp needs to be upgraded to provide comprehensive eye care including refractive care services.

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