Background: The prevalence and causes of blindness in children vary widely between regions. Few epidemiological data are available on the relative importance of the major congenital anomalies of the globe (i.e., microphthalmos, anophthalmos, coloboma) as causes of blindness in children. The aim of this study was to determine the re-gional variation in the proportion of severe visual impairment and blindness due to congenital abnormalities of the globe in children in schools for the blind and in those identified through Community Based Rehabilitation programs. Other objectives were to estimate the prevalence of blindness due to major congenital abnormalities, and to investigate their etiology.
Methods: Data on the causes of blindness in children were collected between 1990 and 1998 using standard methods, definitions and reporting form in 26 countries. Children were examined in schools for the blind and in Community Based Rehabilitation programs.
Results: Of 7,113 children aged 3-15 years with severe visual impairment and blindness examined, 762 (10.7%) had microphthalmos, 161 (2.3%) had anophthalmos, and 96 (1.3%) had coloboma. There are large regional differences in the proportion of severe visual loss in blind school children, ranging from 1.4% in Cuba to 33.2% in Sri Lanka. Severe visual loss due to congenital abnormalities of the globe is estimated to affect between 0.4 and 16.2/100,000 children in the countries studied. An underlying cause could not be identified in 84.2%.
Conclusions: Major congenital abnormalities of the globe are important causes of severe visual loss in children, particularly in Asian countries. Further research into etiology is warranted in order to plan prevention programs.