Corneal blindness: a global perspective

Bull World Health Organ. 2001;79(3):214-21. Epub 2003 Jul 7.


Diseases affecting the cornea are a major cause of blindness worldwide, second only to cataract in overall importance. The epidemiology of corneal blindness is complicated and encompasses a wide variety of infectious and inflammatory eye diseses that cause corneal scarring, which ultimately leads to functional blindness. In addition, the prevalence of corneal disease varies from country to country and even from one population to another. While cataract is responsible for nearly 20 million of the 45 million blind people in the world, the next major cause is trachoma which blinds 4.9 million individuals, mainly as a result of corneal scarring and vascularization. Ocular trauma and corneal ulceration are significant causes of corneal blindness that are often underreported but may be responsible for 1.5-2.0 million new cases of monocular blindness every year. Causes of childhood blindness (about 1.5 million worldwide with 5 million visually disabled) include xerophthalmia (350,000 cases annually), ophthalmia neonatorum, and less frequently seen ocular diseases such as herpes simplex virus infections and vernal keratoconjunctivitis. Even though the control of onchocerciasis and leprosy are public health success stories, these diseases are still significant causes of blindness--affecting a quarter of a million individuals each. Traditional eye medicines have also been implicated as a major risk factor in the current epidemic of corneal ulceration in developing countries. Because of the difficulty of treating corneal blindness once it has occurred, public health prevention programmes are the most cost-effective means of decreasing the global burden of corneal blindness.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Blindness / epidemiology*
  • Blindness / etiology
  • Corneal Diseases / complications
  • Corneal Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Corneal Diseases / etiology
  • Eye Injuries / complications
  • Eye Injuries / epidemiology
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Leprosy / complications
  • Leprosy / epidemiology
  • Leprosy / prevention & control
  • Onchocerciasis / complications
  • Onchocerciasis / epidemiology
  • Onchocerciasis / prevention & control
  • Trachoma / complications
  • Trachoma / drug therapy
  • Trachoma / epidemiology