A world-first study co-authored by The Foundation’s Dr Ciku Mathenge provides the strongest evidence yet that sight restoring operations help break the poverty cycle in developing countries.

Research in Kenya, Bangladesh and the Philippines shows the earning capacity of poor people with cataracts increased significantly after eye surgery. The results add weight to arguments for increasing eye health aid to poor countries, to help eradicate poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Conducted over two years, the study began by comparing the annual spending, assets and self-rated wealth of 596 adults blinded by cataract with a control group of 535 people without visual impairments.

Personal spending was used as measure of poverty in interviews with participants. This is because people are more comfortable talking about expenditure than income.

“…people with visual impairment due to cataract were poorer than those with normal sight in all three low-income countries,” says the study.

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After the interviews, everyone with cataract was offered free or subsidised eye surgery.  In the second year, follow-up interviews were then conducted with the two groups.

 “…one year after cataract surgery PCE [per capita expenditure] increased significantly among operated cases so that it was no longer lower than controls…”

“Gains in PCE were most noticeable in the most vulnerable groups, that is, those who were poorer, older, female or unmarried.”

The Foundation’s Dr Mathenge was co-author of the study and oversaw the research conducted in Kenya.

The results show tackling global blindness is a key to ending world poverty. This is the aim of the United Nations’ Millennium Campaign and the eight Millennium Development Goals, in a combined global effort to eradicate poverty by 2015.

“The Millennium Development Goals are committed to the eradication of extreme poverty and provision of health care to poor people, and this study highlights the need for increased provision of cataract surgery to poor people, as they are particularly vulnerable to visual impairment from cataract,” the study says.