Background: Many individual surveys of blindness have reported slightly higher rates of blindness for women. In order to gain a continent-by-continent and global sense of the burden of blindness by sex we conducted a meta-analysis of published, population-based surveys of blindness.
Method: Published reports were collected using a predetermined search protocol involving commercial electronic databases, hand-searching of references and direct contact with researchers. Studies were included that were population-based, included clinical examination and had a minimum sample size of 1000. The studies were critically appraised to determine methodological rigour. Data were analysed using the Cochrane Collaboration Review Manager.
Results: The overall odds ratio (age-adjusted) of blind women to men is 1.43 (95% CI 1.33-1.53), ranging from 1.39 (95% CI 1.20-1.61) in Africa, 1.41 (95% CI 1.29-1.54) in Asia, and 1.63 (95% CI 1.30-2.05) in industrialised countries. There was good homogeneity of findings from Africa, Asia, and the industrialised countries. Globally, women bear excess blindness compared to men. In these surveys, overall, women account for 64.5% of all blind people. The excess of blindness in women was marked among the elderly and not due only to differential life expectancy.
Conclusion: The excess burden of blindness among women is likely due to a number of factors, which are different in industrialised countries compared to developing countries. Particular attention to gender differences in blindness is needed in the creation of targets for blindness reduction and in the development of interventions.