Eighty percent of blindness world-wide is either preventable or treatable,
according to the World Health Organization, but it remains a severe health
concern across the globe, even in industrialized countries. Prof. Michael Belkin
of the Goldschleger Eye Research Institute at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler
Faculty of Medicine and Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer say that other
countries can learn from Israel’s approach to eye health.
Writing in the
American Journal of Ophthalmology, Belkin said that in the past decade, rates of
preventable blindness here have been cut by more than half – from 33.8 cases of
blindness per 100,000 residents in 1999 to 14.8 in 2010. This improvement, found
across all four main causes of avoidable blindness – age-related macular
degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, diabetes and cataract – is unmatched anywhere else
in the world, he reported. The secret is not only the innovative methods of
treatment that were added to the basket of health services, but also good
patient compliance with treatment regimens, including the correct use of
prescribed medications. The health fund community clinics also offer programs,
such as dedicated diabetes clinics, which promote early prevention and timely
treatment for diabetes-related complications that can lead to blindness. Belkin
noted that such programs save public and private health care money in the long
To evaluate the effectiveness of eye health care in Israel, Belkin
and colleagues from TAU and Sheba conducted a statistical study measuring rates
of blindness in individuals from 12 years through adulthood.
discovered that Israel has emerged as a world leader in preventing avoidable
blindness, reducing rates by over 56%. The rates of untreatable genetic causes
of blindness remained steady over the same period. For example, AMD – one of the
leading causes of blindness in the industrialized world – is treated with a drug
therapy originally approved for colon cancer tumors. By diluting the drug to
create smaller doses for the eye (an idea that originated in the US), it is
possible to provide inexpensive therapy to thousands of patients.
the public policy standpoint, Belkin wrote that the decline in blindness due to
cataracts is due to a change in health care policy rather than any technical
advance. Since the 1990s, patients have been able to choose their doctors
privately for cataract surgery. This practically eliminated wait times for
surgery and prevented the condition from growing worse over the long
Belkin believes that any country can adopt Israel’s strategies for
reducing blindness. Although the initial costs can be daunting – such as the
price of top-notch medications and setting up clinics – it’s “a good investment.
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