Estimation of blindness in India from 2000 through 2020: implications for the blindness control policy

Natl Med J India. 2001 Nov-Dec;14(6):327-34.


Background: To eliminate avoidable blindness in India, appropriate national planning is necessary, which should be based on current and reliable data. A national survey done in 1986-89 reported that 1.5% of the Indian population (12 million people) was blind with a presenting visual acuity of < 6/60 in the better eye. The original goal of the National Programme for Control of Blindness was to reduce this prevalence to 0.3% by 2000. We have recently reported the prevalence of blindness in the population of Andhra Pradesh to be 1.66% with a presenting visual acuity of < 6/60 in the better eye as the sole criterion and 1.84% with a presenting visual acuity of < 6/60 orcentral visual field < 20 degrees in the better eye. We used these population-based data to estimate blindness in India in 2000 and project the possible scenarios of blindness through 2020 with different emphases of the blindness control policy in India.

Methods: Recent population-based data on the age-, sex- and cause-specific blindness rates from the Andhra Pradesh Eye Disease Study for the entire age range were applied to the population distribution of India to estimate the number of blind persons in 2000. The age-, sex- and cause-specific rates of blindness were then applied to the estimated age, sex and urban-rural population distribution of India in 2010 and 2020 to project the number of persons blind (from various causes) and the blind person-years that would be suffered under varying degrees of emphasis in the policy to control blindness due to particular diseases. For these projections, blindness was defined as a presenting distance visual acuity of < 6/60 or central visual field < 200 in the better eye.

Results: The number of blind persons in India in 2000 was estimated to be 18.7 million (95% confidence interval [CI]: 15.2-22.3), of which 9.5 million were cataract-related and 3 million refractive error-related. If there is no change in the current trend of blindness, the number of blind persons in India would increase to 24.1 million (95% CI: 19.7-28.4) in 2010, and to 31.6 million (95% Cl: 26.4-36.9) in 2020. If effective strategies are put in place to eliminate 95% of blindness due to cataract by 2020, blindness in 15.6 million persons would be prevented who would otherwise be blind in 2020 if the current trend continues, and 78 million blind person-years would be prevented in these persons. Similarly, if effective strategies are also implemented to eliminate 95% of the refractive error blindness by 2020, another 4.2 million persons would be prevented from being blind in 2020, and 82 million blind person-years would be prevented. In addition, if strategies to prevent 90% of the preventable blindness due to corneal disease and glaucoma are successful by 2020, blindness in an additional 3.6 million persons in 2020 and 29 million blind person-years would be prevented.

Conclusion: The planning of blindness control in India should take into account recent population-based data for the entire age range, which suggest that the number of blind persons in India is currently over 18 million. This estimate is 50% more than the figure of 12 million from a decade ago that is still quoted widely in the blindness control policy documents. If avoidable blindness is to be substantially reduced in India by 2020, effective strategies against blindness due to cataract and refractive error are needed urgently as both these conditions are relatively easy to treat. Also, strategies against preventable corneal and glaucoma blindness need to be strengthened soon for them to show an impact over the next two decades.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Blindness / epidemiology*
  • Blindness / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • India / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Time Factors