Non-trachomatous corneal opacities in the Gambia--aetiology and visual burden

Eye (Lond). 2002 Jan;16(1):27-32. doi: 10.1038/sj.eye.6700027.


Aims: National blindness surveys conducted in the Gambia in 1986 and 1996 showed an increase in blindness and visual impairment from non-trachomatous opacity. This study aimed to investigate the aetiology of these opacities and to assess the resulting visual burden.

Methods: A population-based, randomised blindness survey was conducted in the Gambia in 1996. Patients with visual impairment or blindness were examined by an ophthalmologist with a slit lamp. Causes of corneal opacity were determined as accurately as possible by clinical history and examination.

Results: A total of 154 patients with non trachomatous corneal opacity were examined of whom 39 had bilateral opacities and 115, unilateral. Causes included corneal infection, measles/vitamin A deficiency, harmful traditional practices and trauma (unilateral scarring). Overall, corneal pathology alone was responsible for bilateral visual impairment or blindness in 19 (12%) patients and unilateral visual impairment or blindness in 88 (57%) patients. Those patients with bilateral visual impairment or blindness (mean age 59, SD) were older (P= 0.003) than others (mean age 44, SD = 20). The use of harmful traditional eye practices was associated with bilateral corneal blindness or visual impairment (RR = 2.63, 95% CI 1.11-6.21, P = 0.04). Although none of the corneal scars reported here were attributed to trachoma, in patients over the age of 45, the prevalence of trachomatous conjunctival scarring in this group was 38.8% compared to 19.4% of the whole nationwide sample.

Discussion: Strategies for the prevention (including the quest for cheaper anti-microbial drugs and co-operation with traditional healers) and surgical treatment of these corneal opacities are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Blindness / epidemiology
  • Blindness / etiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Corneal Injuries
  • Corneal Opacity / epidemiology
  • Corneal Opacity / etiology*
  • Eye Infections / complications
  • Female
  • Gambia / epidemiology
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Trachoma / complications
  • Vision Disorders / epidemiology
  • Vision Disorders / etiology*