One of China’s most populous regions has a blindness rate twice as high as other parts of the country, a new study reveals.

In the southern part of Sichuan Province, which is famed for its spicy cuisine, an estimated 525,000 people are blind.

The findings came after The Fred Hollows Foundation conducted the first Rapid Assessment of Avoidable Blindness (RAAB) in southern Sichuan.

In Sichuan’s Mianning and Dechang counties, where the RAAB took place, 4,650 people underwent eye examinations and answered questions about their access to eye health services. 

In Mianning County, the blindness rate was 3.7% - double the rate found in Inner Mongolia and Jiangxi provinces where The Foundation is already working to reduce large backlogs of patients requiring treatment.

In addition, the RAAB revealed that a large number of the blindness cases were due to cataract. Nearly 40% of people surveyed who had cataract had no idea their sight could be restored with a relatively routine operation that takes as little as 20 minutes.

The Foundation will now work with the local government and ministry of health to build up the eye health workforce in Sichuan, so that local systems can cope with the problem. In addition, work will begin to boost surgery rates by raising awareness in villages that cataract can be treated - and where to go.

Many people in Sichuan, in the country’s west, live at high altitudes where the strong sunshine creates a higher risk of developing cataracts. Information about available eye health services does not always trickle down to their isolated villages. As a result, many people remain in darkness unnecessarily.

Blindness in China accounts for 17% of the world’s blind population. While general health standards are improving significantly, most eye health services are concentrated in cities.

Learn more about The Foundation's China Program.