Poverty and blindness are believed to be intimately linked, but empirical data supporting this purported relationship are sparse. The objective of this study is to assess whether there is a reduction in poverty after cataract surgery among visually impaired cases.
A multi-centre intervention study was conducted in three countries (Kenya, Philippines, Bangladesh). Poverty data (household per capita expenditure – PCE, asset ownership and self-rated wealth) were collected from cases aged ≥50 years who were visually impaired due to cataract (visual acuity<6/24 in the better eye) and age-sex matched controls with normal vision. Cases were offered free/subsidised cataract surgery. Approximately one year later participants were re-interviewed about poverty. 466 cases and 436 controls were examined at both baseline and follow-up (Follow up rate: 78% for cases, 81% for controls), of which 263 cases had undergone cataract surgery (“operated cases”). At baseline, operated cases were poorer compared to controls in terms of PCE (Kenya: $22 versus £35 p = 0.02, Bangladesh: $16 vs $24 p = 0.004, Philippines: $24 vs 32 p = 0.0007), assets and self-rated wealth. By follow-up PCE had increased significantly among operated cases in each of the three settings to the level of controls (Kenya: $30 versus £36 p = 0.49, Bangladesh: $23 vs $23 p = 0.20, Philippines: $45 vs $36 p = 0.68). There were smaller increases in self-rated wealth and no changes in assets. Changes in PCE were apparent in different socio-demographic and ocular groups. The largest PCE increases were apparent among the cases that were poorest at baseline.
This study showed that cataract surgery can contribute to poverty alleviation, particularly among the most vulnerable members of society. This study highlights the need for increased provision of cataract surgery to poor people and shows that a focus on blindness may help to alleviate poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
Hannah Kuper, Sarah Polack, Wanjiku Mathenge, Cristina Eusebio, Zakia Wadud, Mamunur Rashid, Allen Foster
PLOS ONE – November 9, 2010
Access full paper at http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0015431