Search tips
Search criteria

Results 1-25 (1614339)

Clipboard (0)

Related Articles

1.  Rapid Assessment of Avoidable Blindness in Western Rwanda: Blindness in a Postconflict Setting 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(7):e217.
The World Health Organization estimates that there were 37 million blind people in 2002 and that the prevalence of blindness was 9% among adults in Africa aged 50 years or older. Recent surveys indicate that this figure may be overestimated, while a survey from southern Sudan suggested that postconflict areas are particularly vulnerable to blindness. The aim of this study was to conduct a Rapid Assessment for Avoidable Blindness to estimate the magnitude and causes of visual impairment in people aged ≥ 50 y in the postconflict area of the Western Province of Rwanda, which includes one-quarter of the population of Rwanda.
Methods and Findings
Clusters of 50 people aged ≥ 50 y were selected through probability proportionate to size sampling. Households within clusters were selected through compact segment sampling. Visual acuity (VA) was measured with a tumbling “E” chart, and those with VA below 6/18 in either eye were examined by an ophthalmologist. The teams examined 2,206 people (response rate 98.0%). The unadjusted prevalence of bilateral blindness was 1.8% (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.2%–2.4%), 1.3% (0.8%–1.7%) for severe visual impairment, and 5.3% (4.2%–6.4%) for visual impairment. Most bilateral blindness (65%) was due to cataract. Overall, the vast majority of cases of blindness (80.0%), severe visual impairment (67.9%), and visual impairment (87.2%) were avoidable (i.e.. due to cataract, refractive error, aphakia, trachoma, or corneal scar). The cataract surgical coverage was moderate; 47% of people with bilateral cataract blindness (VA < 3/60) had undergone surgery. Of the 29 eyes that had undergone cataract surgery, nine (31%) had a best-corrected poor outcome (i.e., VA < 6/60). Extrapolating these estimates to Rwanda's Western Province, among the people aged 50 years or above 2,565 are expected to be blind, 1,824 to have severe visual impairment, and 8,055 to have visual impairment.
The prevalence of blindness and visual impairment in this postconflict area in the Western Province of Rwanda was far lower than expected. Most of the cases of blindness and visual impairment remain avoidable, however, suggesting that the implementation of an effective eye care service could reduce the prevalence further.
A survey of 2,250 people aged 50 y or over in Rwanda, based on clusters of 50 people, found a much lower prevalence of blindness than expected.
Editors' Summary
VISION 2020, a global initiative that aims to eliminate avoidable blindness, has estimated that 75% of blindness worldwide is treatable or preventable. The WHO estimates that in Africa, around 9% of adults aged over 50 are blind. Some data suggest that people living in regions affected by violent conflict are more likely to be blind than those living in unaffected regions. Currently no data exist on the likely prevalence of blindness in Rwanda, a central African country that is rebuilding following the 1994 genocide and civil war. Parts of the country, such as the Western Province, currently have no eye care services at all, but the government is trying to plan what services are necessary for this part of the country.
Why Was This Study Done?
These researchers wanted to collect data that would help them estimate the number of people suffering from avoidable blindness in Western Province, Rwanda, and to find out the main causes of blindness in this region. The approach they adopted is known as the Rapid Assessment of Avoidable Blindness (RAAB).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
This research project used survey methods based on the 2002 Rwandan national census. The researchers used the census to produce a list of settlements in Western Province, together with the number of individuals living in each settlement. Settlements were randomly picked from the list using a technique that was more likely to pick out bigger settlements than smaller ones. Each settlement was then divided into “cells,” with each cell containing around 500–700 people. One cell was randomly chosen from each settlement. Then, the researchers visited households within the cells, making sure that they visited 50 people aged over 50 y within each cell. They followed a standard procedure for collecting information from each person included in the survey. Each individual was examined by a nurse to measure their clearness of sight (“visual acuity”), using a Snellen chart (a chart with several rows of letters, where the size of the letters gets smaller as you go down the rows). The people being surveyed were examined by an ophthalmologist and the main cause of blindness was recorded, as well as general information on age, sex, details of any cataract operations, and why a cataract operation had not been done if one was needed.
Around 2 million people live in Western Province. The researchers included 2,250 people in the survey, for whom detailed examinations were done for 2,206 survey participants. Overall, 1.8% of the individuals examined were blind in both eyes. The main causes of blindness in the individuals surveyed were avoidable, and included cataract (clouding of the lens), focusing problems, and scarring of the cornea. Although 65% of cases of blindness were caused by cataract, and the availability of cataract surgery for those who needed it was reasonable, the outcomes of surgery were judged to be poor.
What Do These Findings Mean?
>The overall proportion of individuals in this survey who were found to be blind was quite low—1.8% instead of the expected prevalence of 9%. The researchers estimated that the overall proportion of blind people in all age groups in this region of Rwanda would be around 0.2%, and they calculated that 365 cataract surgeries would be needed in the region every year to meet international targets for correcting cataracts. It is not clear why the prevalence of blindness was lower than expected in this survey; one factor might be the low proportion of people in the 50 y age group in the Rwandan population. However, this survey suggests that most of the cases of blindness in this population are avoidable, and the data produced here are important in planning future eye care services within Rwanda.
PLoS Medicine, as a leading general medical journal, would not usually publish the results of a survey of blindness (or any other medical condition) in just one part of one country. The editors felt this one was of particular interest for several reasons. There has previously been very little information about blindness prevalence in Rwanda. The idea of Rapid Assessment of Avoidable Blindness (RAAB) is also fairly new. Furthermore, the results are a striking contrast with what was found in two studies that we recently published from the southern Sudan (see below for references), another part of Africa that has experienced devastating conflict. The Sudan studies found a very much higher prevalence of blindness. However, it must be noted that the fighting in the Sudan continued over a much longer period (several decades) and the Sudanese environment is different in many respects; for example, it is much drier (which raises the risk of blindness due to trachoma) and many people live in extremely remote locations.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
World Health Organization Health Topics maintains a minisite on blindness that includes links to fact sheets, statistics, official publications, and other information
Wikipedia has an entry on visual acuity (clearness of sight), including details of how acuity is measured (note: Wikipedia is an internet encyclopedia anyone can edit)
The World Health Organization publishes detailed country health profiles, including one for Rwanda (click on the relevant country name to download a PDF fact sheet)
VISION 2020 is a global initiative aiming to eliminate avoidable blindness by the year 2020. Its Web site provides information on the main causes of avoidable blindness
Two papers recently published in PLoS Medicine about blindness in the war-afflicted southern Sudan dealt with overall blindness prevalence (Ngondi J, Ole-Sempele F, Onsarigo A, Matende I, Baba S, et al. [2006] Prevalence and causes of blindness and low vision in southern Sudan. PLoS Med 3: e477) and blindness due to trachoma (Ngondi J, Ole-Sempele F, Onsarigo A, Matende I, Baba S, et al. [2006] Blinding trachoma in postconflict southern Sudan. PLoS Med 3: e478)
PMCID: PMC1904464  PMID: 17608561
2.  A Case-Control Study to Assess the Relationship between Poverty and Visual Impairment from Cataract in Kenya, the Philippines, and Bangladesh 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(12):e244.
The link between poverty and health is central to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Poverty can be both a cause and consequence of poor health, but there are few epidemiological studies exploring this complex relationship. The aim of this study was to examine the association between visual impairment from cataract and poverty in adults in Kenya, Bangladesh, and the Philippines.
Methods and Findings
A population-based case–control study was conducted in three countries during 2005–2006. Cases were persons aged 50 y or older and visually impaired due to cataract (visual acuity < 6/24 in the better eye). Controls were persons age- and sex-matched to the case participants with normal vision selected from the same cluster. Household expenditure was assessed through the collection of detailed consumption data, and asset ownership and self-rated wealth were also measured. In total, 596 cases and 535 controls were included in these analyses (Kenya 142 cases, 75 controls; Bangladesh 216 cases, 279 controls; Philippines 238 cases, 180 controls). Case participants were more likely to be in the lowest quartile of per capita expenditure (PCE) compared to controls in Kenya (odds ratio = 2.3, 95% confidence interval 0.9–5.5), Bangladesh (1.9, 1.1–3.2), and the Philippines (3.1, 1.7–5.7), and there was significant dose–response relationship across quartiles of PCE. These associations persisted after adjustment for self-rated health and social support indicators. A similar pattern was observed for the relationship between cataract visual impairment with asset ownership and self-rated wealth. There was no consistent pattern of association between PCE and level of visual impairment due to cataract, sex, or age among the three countries.
Our data show that people with visual impairment due to cataract were poorer than those with normal sight in all three low-income countries studied. The MDGs 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.
Hannah Kuper and colleagues report a population-based case-control study conducted in three countries that found an association between poverty and visual impairment from cataract.
Editors' Summary
Globally, about 45 million people are blind. As with many other conditions, avoidable blindness (preventable or curable blindness) is a particular problem for people in developing countries—90% of blind people live in poor regions of the world. Although various infections and disorders can cause blindness, cataract is the most common cause. In cataract, which is responsible for half of all cases of blindness in the world, the lens of the eye gradually becomes cloudy. Because the lens focuses light to produce clear, sharp images, as cataract develops, vision becomes increasingly foggy or fuzzy, colors become less intense, and the ability to see shapes against a background declines. Eventually, vision may be lost completely. Cataract can be treated with an inexpensive, simple operation in which the cloudy lens is surgically removed and an artificial lens is inserted into the eye to restore vision. In developed countries, this operation is common and easily accessible but many poor countries lack the resources to provide the operation to everyone who needs it. In addition, blind people often cannot afford to travel to the hospitals where the operation, which also may come with a fee, is done.
Why Was This Study Done?
Because blindness may reduce earning potential, many experts believe that poverty and blindness (and, more generally, poor health) are inextricably linked. People become ill more often in poor countries than in wealthy countries because they have insufficient food, live in substandard housing, and have limited access to health care, education, water, and sanitation. Once they are ill, their ability to earn money may be reduced, which increases their personal poverty and slows the economic development of the whole country. Because of this potential link between health and poverty, improvements in health are at the heart of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, a set of eight goals established in 2000 with the primary aim of reducing world poverty. However, few studies have actually investigated the complex relationship between poverty and health. Here, the researchers investigate the association between visual impairment from cataract and poverty among adults living in three low-income countries.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified nearly 600 people aged 50 y or more with severe cataract-induced visual impairment (“cases”) primarily through a survey of the population in Kenya, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. They matched each case to a normally sighted (“control”) person of similar age and sex living nearby. They then assessed a proxy for the income level, measured as “per capita expenditure” (PCE), of all the study participants (people with cataracts and controls) by collecting information about what their households consumed. The participants' housing conditions and other assets and their self-rated wealth were also measured. In all three countries, cases were more likely to be in the lowest quarter (quartile) of the range of PCEs for that country than controls. In the Philippines, for example, people with cataract-affected vision were three times more likely than normally sighted controls to have a PCE in the lowest quartile than in the highest quartile. The risk of cataract-related visual impairment increased as PCE decreased in all three countries. Similarly, severe cataract-induced visual impairment was more common in those who owned fewer assets and those with lower self-rated wealth. However, there was no consistent association between PCE and the level of cataract-induced visual impairment.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that there is an association between visual impairment caused by cataract and poverty in Kenya, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. However, because the financial circumstances of the people in this study were assessed after cataracts had impaired their sight, this study does not prove that poverty is a cause of visual impairment. A causal connection between poverty and cataract can only be shown by determining the PCEs of normally sighted people and following them for several years to see who develops cataract. Nevertheless, by confirming an association between poverty and blindness, these findings highlight the need for increased provision of cataract surgery to poor people, particularly since cataract surgery has the potential to improve the quality of life for many people in developing countries at a relatively low cost.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Susan Lewallen
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia contains a page on cataract, and MedlinePlus also provides a list of links to further information about cataract (in English and Spanish)
VISION 2020, a global initiative for the elimination of avoidable blindness launched by the World Health Organization and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, provides information in several languages about many causes of blindness, including cataract. It also has an article available for download on blindness, poverty, and development
Information is available from the World Health Organization on health and the Millennium Development Goals (in English, French, and Spanish)
The International Centre for Eye Health carries out research and education activities to improve eye health and eliminate avoidable blindness with a focus on populations with low incomes
PMCID: PMC2602716  PMID: 19090614
3.  Prevalence and Causes of Blindness and Low Vision in Southern Sudan  
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(12):e477.
Blindness and low vision are thought to be common in southern Sudan. However, the magnitude and geographical distribution are largely unknown. We aimed to estimate the prevalence of blindness and low vision, identify the main causes of blindness and low vision, and estimate targets for blindness prevention programs in Mankien payam (district), southern Sudan.
Methods and Findings
A cross-sectional survey of the population aged 5 y and above was conducted in May 2005 using a two-stage cluster random sampling with probability proportional to size. The Snellen E chart was used to test visual acuity, and participants also underwent basic eye examination. Vision status was defined using World Health Organization categories of visual impairment based on presenting visual acuity (VA). A total of 2,954 persons were enumerated and 2,499 (84.6%) examined. Prevalence of blindness (presenting VA of less than 3/60 in the better eye) was 4.1% (95% confidence interval [CI], 3.4–4.8); prevalence of low vision (presenting VA of at least 3/60 but less than 18/60 in the better eye) was 7.7% (95% CI, 6.7–8.7); whereas prevalence of monocular visual impairment (presenting VA of at least 18/60 in better eye and VA of less than 18/60 in other eye) was 4.4% (95% CI, 3.6–5.3). The main causes of blindness were considered to be cataract (41.2%) and trachoma (35.3%), whereas low vision was mainly caused by trachoma (58.1%) and cataract (29.3%). It is estimated that in Mankien payam 1,154 persons aged 5 y and above (lower and upper bounds = 782–1,799) are blind, and 2,291 persons (lower and upper bounds = 1,820–2,898) have low vision.
Blindness is a serious public health problem in Mankien, and there is urgent need to implement comprehensive blindness prevention programs. Further surveys are essential to confirm these tragic findings and estimate prevalence of blindness and low vision in the entire region of southern Sudan in order to facilitate planning of VISION 2020 objectives.
A cross-sectional survey using two-stage cluster random sampling was conducted in Mankien district, southern Sudan. The prevalence of blindness (4.1%) and of low vision (7.7%) were much higher than expected.
Editors' Summary
Blindness is very common. The World Health Organization says that around 161 million people have at least some degree of “visual impairment,” of whom 37 million are blind. There are many causes of blindness, including infections, malnutrition, injury, and aging. Around 90% of blind people live in developing countries. It is estimated that 75% of the cases of blindness in these countries could have been prevented but, in situations where people are poor and live in remote locations, both prevention and treatment efforts are extremely difficult. In times of war and civil conflict, the problems become even more severe. In these situations, it is very hard even to get an idea of the number of people who are blind. Surveys to find this out are important as a first step toward providing prevention and treatment services. Surveys play an essential part in international efforts to fight blindness.
Why Was This Study Done?
Sudan is the largest country in Africa and one of the poorest in the world. Southern Sudan has spent most of the last five decades in a state of civil war and is a very remote region. The last information collected on the scale of the blindness problem was in the early 1980s. The researchers decided to conduct a survey in Mankien—a district of Sudan with a total population that is estimated to be around 50,000. Their aim was to estimate how many people were blind or had “low vision” and to find out the main causes of blindness. This would be useful in planning a blindness prevention programme for the district. It would also give some idea of the situation in the southern Sudan as a whole.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Working under very difficult conditions, the researchers selected villages to be visited at random. A house in each village visited was selected by spinning a pen in the middle of the village. The people in this house were examined and then other houses were chosen, also at random. In total, 2499 people were examined. Children under five years were not included in survey.
A very high rate of blindness was found—4%. This is more than twice the level that would be expected, given what is known about the prevalence of blindness in other parts of rural Africa. The two most common causes of blindness and low vision were cataract and trachoma, each accounting for over one-third of cases. Cataract is mainly a disease of older people; the lens of the eye becomes opaque. Trachoma is caused by an infection; it is the subject of another article by the same researchers in this issue of PLoS Medicine. Trachoma was responsible for a greater proportion of cases of blindness than has been found in studies in other parts of rural Africa.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Based on the researchers' use of the random walk survey technique, the prevalence of blindness in this district and possibly the rest of southern Sudan appears to be extremely serious. The number of cases caused by trachoma is especially worrying. This information will help efforts to improve the situation. The implications of the study—and a discussion of the methods the researchers used—will be found in two “Perspective” articles in this issue of PLoS Medicine (by Buchan and by Kuper and Gilbert).
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
General information about blindness is available on Wikipedia, an internet encyclopedia that anyone can edit
Vision 2020 is a major international initiative to reduce blindness, in which many organizations collaborate
The World Health Organization has a Web page on blindness
Many charities provide help to blind people in developing countries, for example: Sight Savers, Lions Clubs International Foundation, Dark and Light Blind Care
A profile of Sudan will be found on the website of the BBC
PMCID: PMC1702554  PMID: 17177596
4.  Current status of cataract blindness and Vision 2020: The right to sight initiative in India 
Indian Journal of Ophthalmology  2008;56(6):489-494.
India is a signatory to the World Health Organization resolution on Vision 2020: The right to sight. Efforts of all stakeholders have resulted in increased number of cataract surgeries performed in India, but the impact of these efforts on the elimination of avoidable blindness is unknown.
Projection of performance of cataract surgery over the next 15 years to determine whether India is likely to eliminate cataract blindness by 2020.
Materials and Methods:
Data from three national level blindness surveys in India over three decades, and projected age-specific population till 2020 from US Census Bureau were used to develop a model to predict the magnitude of cataract blindness and impact of Vision 2020: the right to sight initiatives.
Using age-specific data for those aged 50+ years it was observed that prevalence of blindness at different age cohorts (above 50 years) reduced over three decades with a peak in 1989. Projections show that among those aged 50+ years, the quantum of cataract surgery would double (3.38 million in 2001 to 7.63 million in 2020) and cataract surgical rate would increase from 24025/million 50+ in 2001 to 27817/million 50+ in 2020. Though the prevalence of cataract blindness would decrease, the absolute number of cataract blind would increase from 7.75 million in 2001 to 8.25 million in 2020 due to a substantial increase in the population above 50 years in India over this period.
Considering existing prevalence and projected incidence of cataract blindness over the period 2001-2020, visual outcomes after cataract surgery and sight restoration rate, elimination of cataract blindness may not be achieved by 2020 in India.
PMCID: PMC2612994  PMID: 18974520
Blindness; cataract; the right to sight; vision 2020
5.  Cataract 
Clinical Evidence  2011;2011:0708.
Cataract accounts for over 47% of blindness worldwide, causing blindness in about 17.3 million people in 1990. Surgery for cataract in people with glaucoma may affect glaucoma control.
Methods and outcomes
We conducted a systematic review and aimed to answer the following clinical questions: What are the effects of surgery for age-related cataract without other ocular comorbidity? What are the effects of treatment for age-related cataract in people with glaucoma? What are the effects of surgical treatments for age-related cataract in people with diabetic retinopathy? What are the effects of surgical treatments for age-related cataract in people with chronic uveitis? We searched: Medline, Embase, The Cochrane Library, and other important databases up to May 2010 (Clinical Evidence reviews are updated periodically; please check our website for the most up-to-date version of this review). We included harms alerts from relevant organisations such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
We found 20 systematic reviews, RCTs, or observational studies that met our inclusion criteria. We performed a GRADE evaluation of the quality of evidence for interventions.
In this systematic review we present information relating to the effectiveness and safety of the following interventions: for people with cataract without other ocular co-morbidity: cataract surgery alone, cataract surgery with non-concomitant glaucoma surgery, concomitant cataract and glaucoma surgery, intracapsular extraction, manual (large or small) incision extracapsular extraction, and phaco extracapsular extraction; for people with cataract with co-morbid diabetic retinopathy: cataract surgery alone, and adding diabetic retinopathy treatment to cataract surgery; for people with cataract and co-morbid chronic uveitis: cataract surgery, and medical control of uveitis at the time of cataract surgery.
Key Points
Cataracts are cloudy or opaque areas in the lens of the eye that can impair vision. Age-related cataracts are defined as those occurring in people >50 years of age, in the absence of known mechanical, chemical, or radiation trauma. Cataract accounts for over 47% of blindness worldwide, causing blindness in about 17.3 million people in 1990.Surgery for cataract in people with glaucoma may affect glaucoma control.There is contradictory evidence about the effect of cataract surgery on the development or progression of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD).
Expedited phaco extracapsular extraction may be more effective at improving visual acuity compared with waiting list control in people with cataract without ocular comorbidities. When combined with foldable posterior chamber intraocular lens implant (IOL), phaco extracapsular extraction seems more effective than manual large-incision extracapsular extraction at improving vision, and has fewer complications.This procedure has largely superseded manual large-incision extracapsular cataract extraction in developed countries.
Manual large-incision extracapsular extraction has also been shown to be successful in treating cataracts. Combined with IOL, manual large-incision extracapsular extraction is significantly better at improving vision compared with intracapsular extraction plus aphakic glasses.Small-incision manual extracapsular extraction (manual SICS) techniques and phaco extracapsular extraction techniques are similarly beneficial at improving visual acuity for advanced cataracts at 6 months, with few complications.This finding may be particularly relevant to treatment in developing countries.
Intracapsular extraction is likely to be better at improving vision compared with no extraction, although it is not as beneficial as manual (large or small) incision extracapsular extraction. The rate of complications is also higher with this technique compared with extracapsular extraction.
In people with glaucoma and cataract, concomitant cataract surgery (phaco or manual large-incision extracapsular extraction) and glaucoma surgery seems more beneficial than cataract surgery alone, in that they both improve vision to a similar extent, but the glaucoma surgery additionally improves intraocular pressure. We found no trials comparing different types of cataract surgery in people with glaucoma.
In people with diabetic retinopathy and cataract, phaco extracapsular extraction may improve visual acuity and reduce postoperative inflammation compared with manual large-incision extraction. Performing procedures in the order of cataract surgery first followed by pan retinal photocoagulation may be more effective than the opposite order at improving visual acuity and reducing the progression of diabetic macular oedema in people with cataract and diabetic retinopathy secondary to type 2 diabetes. However, these results come from one small RCT.
One of the possible harms of cataract surgery is cystoid macular oedema, which people with uveitis also frequently suffer from. We found no trials comparing different types of cataract surgery in people with chronic uveitis.We don't know whether intravitreal triamcinolone acetonide is more effective than orbital floor injection of triamcinolone acetonide in improving outcomes after cataract surgery in people with chronic uveitis as we found few trials.
PMCID: PMC3275311  PMID: 21718561
6.  EPHA2 Is Associated with Age-Related Cortical Cataract in Mice and Humans 
PLoS Genetics  2009;5(7):e1000584.
Age-related cataract is a major cause of blindness worldwide, and cortical cataract is the second most prevalent type of age-related cataract. Although a significant fraction of age-related cataract is heritable, the genetic basis remains to be elucidated. We report that homozygous deletion of Epha2 in two independent strains of mice developed progressive cortical cataract. Retroillumination revealed development of cortical vacuoles at one month of age; visible cataract appeared around three months, which progressed to mature cataract by six months. EPHA2 protein expression in the lens is spatially and temporally regulated. It is low in anterior epithelial cells, upregulated as the cells enter differentiation at the equator, strongly expressed in the cortical fiber cells, but absent in the nuclei. Deletion of Epha2 caused a significant increase in the expression of HSP25 (murine homologue of human HSP27) before the onset of cataract. The overexpressed HSP25 was in an underphosphorylated form, indicating excessive cellular stress and protein misfolding. The orthologous human EPHA2 gene on chromosome 1p36 was tested in three independent worldwide Caucasian populations for allelic association with cortical cataract. Common variants in EPHA2 were found that showed significant association with cortical cataract, and rs6678616 was the most significant in meta-analyses. In addition, we sequenced exons of EPHA2 in linked families and identified a new missense mutation, Arg721Gln, in the protein kinase domain that significantly alters EPHA2 functions in cellular and biochemical assays. Thus, converging evidence from humans and mice suggests that EPHA2 is important in maintaining lens clarity with age.
Author Summary
Cataract is the leading cause of blindness. Cataract may form at any age, but the peak incidence is bimodal—in the perinatal period or later than 50 years of age. The early onset forms follow Mendelian inheritance patterns and are rare. Age-related cataract accounts for 18 million cases of blindness and 59 million cases of reduced vision worldwide. Among three types of age-related cataract, cortical cataract is known to be highly heritable, although few genes have been linked to its etiology. We report here that EPHA2 is associated with cortical cataract. EPHA2 is expressed in mouse and human cortical lens fiber cells, and homozygous deletion of Epha2 in two independent strains of mice led to development of cataract that progressed with age. Common and rare variants including a missense mutation in the EPHA2 gene were associated for cortical cataract in three different Caucasian populations. Our study identified EPHA2 as a gene for human age-related cataract and established Epha2 knockout mice as a model for progressive cortical cataract.
PMCID: PMC2712078  PMID: 19649315
7.  Prevalence of Age-Related Macular Degeneration in Nakuru, Kenya: A Cross-Sectional Population-Based Study 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(2):e1001393.
Using digital retinal photography and slit lamp examination in a population-based sample in the Nakuru District of Kenya, Andrew Bastawrous and colleagues determined the prevalence of age-related macular degeneration in adults 50 years and older.
Diseases of the posterior segment of the eye, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD), have recently been recognised as the leading or second leading cause of blindness in several African countries. However, prevalence of AMD alone has not been assessed. We hypothesized that AMD is an important cause of visual impairment among elderly people in Nakuru, Kenya, and therefore sought to assess the prevalence and predictors of AMD in a diverse adult Kenyan population.
Methods and Findings
In a population-based cross-sectional survey in the Nakuru District of Kenya, 100 clusters of 50 people 50 y of age or older were selected by probability-proportional-to-size sampling between 26 January 2007 and 11 November 2008. Households within clusters were selected through compact segment sampling.
All participants underwent a standardised interview and comprehensive eye examination, including dilated slit lamp examination by an ophthalmologist and digital retinal photography. Images were graded for the presence and severity of AMD lesions following a modified version of the International Classification and Grading System for Age-Related Maculopathy. Comparison was made between slit lamp biomicroscopy (SLB) and photographic grading.
Of 4,381 participants, fundus photographs were gradable for 3,304 persons (75.4%), and SLB was completed for 4,312 (98%). Early and late AMD prevalence were 11.2% and 1.2%, respectively, among participants graded on images. Prevalence of AMD by SLB was 6.7% and 0.7% for early and late AMD, respectively. SLB underdiagnosed AMD relative to photographic grading by a factor of 1.7.
After controlling for age, women had a higher prevalence of early AMD than men (odds ratio 1.5; 95% CI, 1.2–1.9). Overall prevalence rose significantly with each decade of age. We estimate that, in Kenya, 283,900 to 362,800 people 50 y and older have early AMD and 25,200 to 50,500 have late AMD, based on population estimates in 2007.
AMD is an important cause of visual impairment and blindness in Kenya. Greater availability of low vision services and ophthalmologist training in diagnosis and treatment of AMD would be appropriate next steps.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Worldwide, 39 million people are blind, and 246 million people (mainly living in developing countries) have moderate or severe visual impairment. The third leading global cause of blindness (after cataracts and glaucoma) is age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This group of conditions is characterized by lesions in the macular (central) region of the retina, the tissue at the back of the eye that converts light into electrical messages and sends them to the brain. AMD, which affects older people, destroys the sharp central vision that is needed for reading or driving, leaving only dim, blurred images or a black hole at the center of vision. AMD can be diagnosed by examining digital photographs of the retina or by examining the retina directly using a special magnifying lens (slit lamp biomicroscopy). There is no cure for AMD, although injections into the eye of certain drugs, such as bevacizumab, that block the activity of vascular endothelial growth factor can slow the rate of vision loss caused by some forms of AMD.
Why Was This Study Done?
Most investigations of the prevalence (the proportion of a population with a disease) of AMD and of risk factors for AMD have studied people with European or Asian ancestry. Very little is known about AMD in African populations, and the data that are available mainly come from African populations living outside Africa. It is important to know whether AMD is an important cause of visual impairment and blindness in Africa, so that informed decisions can be made about the need for AMD programs in African countries. In this cross-sectional population-based study, the researchers investigate the prevalence of AMD among people aged 50 years or older living in Nakuru District (an ethnically diverse region of Kenya) and look for predictors of AMD in this population. In a cross-sectional population-based study, researchers observe a representative subset of a population at a single time point.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers randomly selected 100 clusters of 50 people aged 50 years or older for their study. Between January 2007 and November 2008, study participants had a comprehensive eye examination and completed a standardized interview that included questions about their age, gender, other demographic details, medical history, and exposure to possible risk factors for AMD. Based on digital retinal images, the prevalences of early and late AMD among the study population were 11.2% and 1.2%, respectively. The prevalences of early and late AMD judged by slit lamp biomicroscopy were 6.7% and 0.7%, respectively. After controlling for age, women had a higher prevalence of both early and late AMD than men. The overall prevalence of AMD rose with age: compared to the youngest age group, the oldest age group had a three-fold higher risk of developing late AMD. Of the people with any grade of AMD, 25.6% had some visual impairment and 2.5% were blind. Overall, 9.9% of the blindness seen in the study was attributable to AMD.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings identify AMD as an important cause of visual impairment and blindness in Nakuru District, Kenya. Extrapolation of these findings to the whole of Kenya suggests that 283,900 to 362,800 Kenyans had early AMD and 25,200 to 50,500 had late AMD in 2007. The accuracy of these findings is limited by the inability to obtain digital retinal images from all the participants (often because of electricity failures) and by other aspects of the study design. Moreover, because the methodology used in this study differed from some other studies of AMD, the prevalence of AMD reported here cannot be compared directly to those found in other studies. Nevertheless, these findings have several important implications. In particular, although recent evidence suggests that bevacizumab is likely to be both effective and affordable in Africa, the infrastructure required to deliver an adequate AMD service is currently prohibitively expensive in most African countries. Thus, these findings suggest that it is essential that research is undertaken to support the development of AMD treatment programs that are affordable and deliverable in Africa, and that low vision resources are provided for individuals with vision impairment.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
The US National Eye Institute provides detailed information about age-related macular degeneration
The UK National Health Service Choices website also provides information about age-related macular degeneration, including personal stories about the condition
The UK Royal National Institute of Blind People has information on age-related macular degeneration, including a video of a person describing their experiences of the condition
AMD Alliance International provides written and audio information in several languages about age-related macular degeneration, including a large selection of personal stories; the Macular Degeneration Partnership also provides information about age-related macular degeneration, including a simulation of the condition
MedlinePlus has links to additional resources about age-related macular degeneration (in English and Spanish)
PMCID: PMC3576379  PMID: 23431274
8.  Blindness and Cataract Surgical Services in Atsinanana Region, Madagascar 
To assess the prevalence and causes of avoidable blindness in Atsinanana Region, Madagascar, with the Rapid Assessment of Avoidable Blindness (RAAB) survey. We analyzed the hospital records to supplement the findings for public health care planning.
Materials and Methods:
Only villages within a two-hour walk from a road, about half of the population of Atsinanana was included. Seventy-two villages were selected by population-proportional-to-size sampling. In each village, compact segment sampling was used to select 50 people over age 50 for eye examination using standard RAAB methods. Records at the two hospitals providing cataract surgery in the region were analyzed for information on patients who underwent cataract surgery in 2010. Cataract incidence rate and target cataract surgery rate (CSR) was modeled from age-specific prevalence of cataract.
The participation rate was 87% and the sample prevalence of blindness was 1.96%. Cataract was responsible for 64% and 85.7% of blindness and severe visual impairment, respectively. Visual impairment was due to cataract (69.4%) and refractive error (14.1%). There was a strong positive correlation between cataract surgical rate by district and the proportion of people living within 2 hours of a road. There were marked differences in the profiles of the cataract patients at the two facilities. The estimated incidence of cataract at the 6/18 level was 2.4 eyes per 100 people over age 50 per year.
Although the survey included only people with reasonable access, the main cause of visual impairment was still cataract. The incidence of cataract is such that it ought to be possible to eliminate it as a cause of visual impairment, but changes in service delivery at hospitals and strategies to improve access will be necessary for this change.
PMCID: PMC4005180  PMID: 24791107
Blindness; Cataract; Incidence; Madagascar
9.  Selected Sun-Sensitizing Medications and Incident Cataract 
Archives of ophthalmology  2010;128(8):959-963.
Sunlight exposure has been found to be associated with the development of age-related cataract. Use of some medications has been related to the development of sensitization to sun exposure.
To examine the relationship of use of sun-sensitizing medication on cumulative incidence of age-related cataract.
Population-based longitudinal cohort study.
Adults in the Midwestern community of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, who were seen at baseline and three follow-up visits each five years apart.
Sun exposure was estimated from residential history that permitted calculation of Wisconsin sun years (WISY) at the baseline examination. Medication history was reported at each examination. Cataract presence was determined by standardized lens photographs that were taken at each examination and graded according to standard protocols.
Main Outcome Measure
Cumulative incidence of age-related cataract.
There were no significant effects of WISY exposure or use of sun-sensitizing medications on cumulative incidence of any type of age-related cataract while controlling for age and gender. However, there was a significant interaction term combining WISY and use of any sun-sensitizing medication on cortical cataract (P=.04) such that risk of cataract is significantly higher for persons in both risk groups: taking sun-sensitizing medication and higher sun exposure. Further controlling for diabetes status, history of heavy drinking and hat or sunglasses use did not alter the relationships.
These data suggest that use of sun-sensitizing medications interacts with sun exposure to influence the risk of cortical cataract, a common age-related cataract. If confirmed, this finding may have important implications for medication use.
PMCID: PMC2919611  PMID: 20547934
10.  Aetiology of congenital and paediatric cataract in an Australian population 
Background/aim: Paediatric cataract is a major cause of childhood blindness. Several genes associated with congenital and paediatric cataracts have been identified. The aim was to determine the incidence of cataract in a population, the proportion of hereditary cataracts, the mode of inheritance, and the clinical presentation.
Methods: The Royal Children's Hospital and the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital have a referral base for almost all paediatric patients with cataracts in south eastern Australia. The database contains cases seen over the past 25 years. The medical histories of these patients were reviewed.
Results: 421 patients with paediatric cataract were identified, which gives an estimated incidence of 2.2 per 10 000 births. Of the 342 affected individuals with a negative family history, 50% were diagnosed during the first year of life, and 56/342 (16%) were associated with a recognised systemic disease or syndrome. Unilateral cataract was identified in 178/342 (52%) of sporadic cases. 79 children (from 54 nuclear families) had a positive family history. Of these 54 families, 45 were recruited for clinical examination and DNA collection. Ten nuclear families were subsequently found to be related, resulting in four larger pedigrees. Thus, 39 families have been studied. The mode of inheritance was autosomal dominant in 30 families, X linked in four, autosomal recessive in two, and uncertain in three. In total, 178 affected family members were examined; of these 8% presented with unilateral cataracts and 43% were diagnosed within the first year of life.
Conclusions: In the paediatric cataract population examined, approximately half of the patients were diagnosed in the first year of life. More than 18% had a positive family history of cataracts. Of patients with hereditary cataracts 8% presented with unilateral involvement. Identification of the genes that cause paediatric and congenital cataract should help clarify the aetiology of some sporadic and unilateral cataracts.
PMCID: PMC1771196  PMID: 12084750
cataracts; paediatric cataracts; congenital cataracts; hereditary cataracts
11.  Averting Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes in India through Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Taxation: An Economic-Epidemiologic Modeling Study 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(1):e1001582.
In this modeling study, Sanjay Basu and colleagues estimate the potential health effects of a sugar-sweetened beverage taxation among various sub-populations in India over the period 2014 to 2023.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) has been proposed in high-income countries to reduce obesity and type 2 diabetes. We sought to estimate the potential health effects of such a fiscal strategy in the middle-income country of India, where there is heterogeneity in SSB consumption, patterns of substitution between SSBs and other beverages after tax increases, and vast differences in chronic disease risk within the population.
Methods and Findings
Using consumption and price variations data from a nationally representative survey of 100,855 Indian households, we first calculated how changes in SSB price alter per capita consumption of SSBs and substitution with other beverages. We then incorporated SSB sales trends, body mass index (BMI), and diabetes incidence data stratified by age, sex, income, and urban/rural residence into a validated microsimulation of caloric consumption, glycemic load, overweight/obesity prevalence, and type 2 diabetes incidence among Indian subpopulations facing a 20% SSB excise tax. The 20% SSB tax was anticipated to reduce overweight and obesity prevalence by 3.0% (95% CI 1.6%–5.9%) and type 2 diabetes incidence by 1.6% (95% CI 1.2%–1.9%) among various Indian subpopulations over the period 2014–2023, if SSB consumption continued to increase linearly in accordance with secular trends. However, acceleration in SSB consumption trends consistent with industry marketing models would be expected to increase the impact efficacy of taxation, averting 4.2% of prevalent overweight/obesity (95% CI 2.5–10.0%) and 2.5% (95% CI 1.0–2.8%) of incident type 2 diabetes from 2014–2023. Given current consumption and BMI distributions, our results suggest the largest relative effect would be expected among young rural men, refuting our a priori hypothesis that urban populations would be isolated beneficiaries of SSB taxation. Key limitations of this estimation approach include the assumption that consumer expenditure behavior from prior years, captured in price elasticities, will reflect future behavior among consumers, and potential underreporting of consumption in dietary recall data used to inform our calculations.
Sustained SSB taxation at a high tax rate could mitigate rising obesity and type 2 diabetes in India among both urban and rural subpopulations.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and obesity (excessive body mass) are major threats to global health. Each year NCDs kill 36 million people (including 29 million people in low- and middle-income countries), thereby accounting for nearly two-thirds of the world's annual deaths. Cardiovascular diseases, cancers, respiratory diseases, and diabetes (a condition characterized by raised blood sugar levels) are responsible for most NCD-related deaths. Worldwide, diabetes alone affects about 360 million people and causes nearly 5 million deaths annually. And the number of people affected by NCDs is likely to rise over the next few decades. It is estimated, for example, that 101.2 million people in India will have diabetes by 2030, nearly double the current number. In Asia and other low- and middle-income countries overweight as well as obesity represent a risk factor for NCDs and the global prevalence of obesity (the proportion of the world's population that is obese) has nearly doubled since 1980. Worldwide, around 0.5 billion people are now classified as obese and about 1.5 billion more overweight. That is, they have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 kg/m2 or more (25–30 for overweight); BMI is calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters. In India individuals with a BMI of 25 or more (overweight/obese) are at very high risk of diabetes.
Why Was This Study Done?
The consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs, soft drinks sweetened with cane sugar or other caloric sweeteners) is a major risk factor for overweight/obesity and, independent of total energy consumption and BMI, for type 2 diabetes (the commonest form of diabetes). In high-income countries, SSB taxation has been proposed as a way to lower the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, however it is unknown if this approach will work in low- and middle-income countries. Here, in an economic-epidemiologic modeling study, researchers estimate the potential health effects of SSB taxation in India, a middle-income country in which total SSB consumption is rapidly increasing, but where SSB consumption and chronic disease risk vary greatly within the population and where people are likely to turn to other sugar-rich beverages (for example, fresh fruit juices) if SSBs are taxed.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used survey data relating SSB consumption to price variations to calculate how changes in the price of SSBs affect the demand for SSBs (own-price elasticity) and for other beverages (cross-price elasticity) in India. They combined these elasticities and data on SSB sales trends, BMIs, and diabetes incidence (the frequency of new diabetes cases) into a mathematical microsimulation model to estimate the effect of a 20% tax on SSBs on caloric (energy) consumption, glycemic load (an estimate of how much a food or drink raises blood sugar levels after consumption; low glycemic load diets lower diabetes risk), the prevalence of overweight/obesity, and the incidence of diabetes among Indian subpopulations. According to the model, if SSB sales continue to increase at the current rate, compared to no tax, a 20% SSB tax would reduce overweight/obesity across India by 3.0% and the incidence of type 2 diabetes by 1.6% over the period 2014–2023. In absolute figures, a 20% SSB tax would avert 11.2 million cases of overweight/obesity and 400,000 cases of type 2 diabetes between 2014 and 2023. Notably, if SSB sales increase more steeply as predicted by drinks industry marketing models, the tax would avert 15.8 million cases of overweight/obesity and 600,000 cases of diabetes. Finally, the model predicted that the largest relative effect of an SSB tax would be among young men in rural areas.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The accuracy of these findings is likely to be affected by the assumptions incorporated in the model and by the data fed into it. In particular, the accuracy of the estimates of the health effects of a 20% tax on SSBs is limited by the assumption that future consumer behavior will reflect historic behavior and by potential underreporting of SSB consumption in surveys. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that a sustained high rate of tax on SSBs could mitigate the rising prevalence of obesity and the rising incidence of diabetes in India in both urban and rural populations by affecting both caloric intake and glycemic load. Thus, SSB taxation might be a way to control obesity and diabetes in India and other low- and middle-income countries where, to date, large-scale interventions designed to address these threats to global health have had no sustained effects.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
The World Health Organization provides information about non-communicable diseases, obesity, and diabetes around the world (in several languages)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on non-communicable diseases around the world and on overweight and obesity and diabetes (including some information in Spanish)
The US National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse provides information about diabetes for patients, health-care professionals, and the general public, including detailed information on weight control (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information for patients and carers about type 2 diabetes and about obesity; it includes personal stories about diabetes and about obesity
MedlinePlus provides links to further resources and advice about diabetes and diabetes prevention and about obesity (in English and Spanish)
A 2012 Policy brief from the Yale Rudd Center for food policy and obesity provides information about SSB taxes
PMCID: PMC3883641  PMID: 24409102
12.  N-Acetylcarnosine sustained drug delivery eye drops to control the signs of ageless vision: Glare sensitivity, cataract amelioration and quality of vision currently available treatment for the challenging 50,000-patient population 
Innovative Vision Products, Inc. (IVP)’s scientists developed the lubricant eye drops (Can-C™) designed as 1% N-acetylcarnosine (NAC) prodrug of l-carnosine containing a mucoadhesive cellulose-based compound combined with corneal absorption promoters in a sustained drug delivery system. Only the natural l-isomeric form of NAC raw material was specifically synthesized at the cGMP facility and employed for the manufacturing of Can-C™ eye drops.
Objective and study design:
In the present clinical study the authors assessed vision before and after 9 month term of topical ocular administration of NAC lubricant eye drops or placebo in 75 symptomatic patients with age-related uncomplicated cataracts in one or both eyes, with acuity in one eye of 20/40 or worse (best-corrected distance), and no previous cataract surgery in either eye and no other ocular abnormality and 72 noncataract subjects ranged in age from 54 to 78 years.
Subjects in these subsample groups have reported complaints of glare and wanted to administer eye drops to get quick eye relief and quality of vision for their daily activities including driving and computer works. Following 9 months of treatment with NAC lubricant eye drops, most patients’ glare scores were improved or returned to normal in disability glare tests with Halometer DG. Improvement in disability glare was accompanied with independent improvement in acuity. Furthermore, patients with the poorest pretreatment vision were as likely to regain certain better visual function after 9 months of treatment with N-acetylcarnosine lubricant eye drops as those with the worth pretreatment vision.
Patients or other participants:
The authors made a reference to electronic records of the product sales to patients who have been made the repurchase of the Can-C™ eye drops since December 2001.
Based on this analysis of recorded adjustments to inventory, various parameters were analyzed during the continued repurchase behavior program, including testimonials from buyers. With these figures, researchers judged on the patients’ compliance rate to self-administer NAC eye-drops.
Main outcome measure and results:
The ophthalmic drug showed potential for the non-surgical treatment of age-related cataracts for participants after controlling for age, gender and daily activities and on a combined basis of repurchases behavior reports in more than 50,000 various cohort survivors, has been demonstrated to have a high efficacy and good tolerability for prevention and treatment of visual impairment determined for the older population with relative stable pattern of causes for blindness and visual impairment. The mechanisms of prevention and reversal of cataracts with NAC ophthalmic drug are considered which include prevention by the intraocular released carnosine of free-radical-induced inactivation of proprietary lens antioxidant enzymes (superoxide dismutase); prevention of carbohydrate and metal-catalyzed autooxidation of ascorbic acid-induced cross-linking glycation reactions to the lens proteins; transglycation properties of carnosine, allowing it to compete for the glycating agent, protecting proteins (lens crystallins) against modification; universal antioxidant and scavenging activity towards lipid hydroperoxides, aldehydes and oxygen radicals; activation with l-carnosine ingredient of proteasome activity in the lens; chaperone-like disaggregating to lens crystallins activity of NAC and of its bioactivated principal carnosine. Blindness incidence increased with advancing age, such as cataract and glaucoma, which are by far the commonest causes of blindness in our sample and in all age groups, glaucomatous neurodegeneration can be treated with developed NAC autoinduction prodrug eye drops equipped with corneal absorption promoters. The common blinding affections presenting in developed countries such as, senile macular degeneration, hereditary chorioretinal dystrophies, diabetic retinopathy are poorly represented in our current summary of vital-statistics and will be reported inherent in next N-acetylcarnosine ophthalmic drug studies.
The authors present evidence, about why only a certain kind of NAC is safe, and why only certain formulas designed by IVP for drug discovery are efficacious in the prevention and treatment of senile cataract for long-term use. Overall cumulated studies demonstrate that the designed by IVP new vision-saving drug NAC eye drops help the aging eye to recover by improving its clarity, glare sensitivity, color perception and overall vision.
PMCID: PMC2685223  PMID: 19503764
age-related ophthalmic diseases; cataract; disability-glare; halos; Halometer; visual-acuity; N-acetylcarnosine lubricant eye drops; repurchase behavior analysis; 50,000-patients’ compliance to self-administer eye drops
13.  Quantifying the Number of Pregnancies at Risk of Malaria in 2007: A Demographic Study 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(1):e1000221.
By combining data from the Malaria Atlas Project with country-specific data, Feiko ter Kuile and colleagues provide the first contemporary global estimates of the annual number of pregnancies at risk of malaria.
Comprehensive and contemporary estimates of the number of pregnancies at risk of malaria are not currently available, particularly for endemic areas outside of Africa. We derived global estimates of the number of women who became pregnant in 2007 in areas with Plasmodium falciparum and P. vivax transmission.
Methods and Findings
A recently published map of the global limits of P. falciparum transmission and an updated map of the limits of P. vivax transmission were combined with gridded population data and growth rates to estimate total populations at risk of malaria in 2007. Country-specific demographic data from the United Nations on age, sex, and total fertility rates were used to estimate the number of women of child-bearing age and the annual rate of live births. Subregional estimates of the number of induced abortions and country-specific stillbirths rates were obtained from recently published reviews. The number of miscarriages was estimated from the number of live births and corrected for induced abortion rates. The number of clinically recognised pregnancies at risk was then calculated as the sum of the number of live births, induced abortions, spontaneous miscarriages, and stillbirths among the population at risk in 2007. In 2007, 125.2 million pregnancies occurred in areas with P. falciparum and/or P. vivax transmission resulting in 82.6 million live births. This included 77.4, 30.3, 13.1, and 4.3 million pregnancies in the countries falling under the World Health Organization (WHO) regional offices for South-East-Asia (SEARO) and the Western-Pacific (WPRO) combined, Africa (AFRO), Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean (EURO/EMRO), and the Americas (AMRO), respectively. Of 85.3 million pregnancies in areas with P. falciparum transmission, 54.7 million occurred in areas with stable transmission and 30.6 million in areas with unstable transmission (clinical incidence <1 per 10,000 population/year); 92.9 million occurred in areas with P. vivax transmission, 53.0 million of which occurred in areas in which P. falciparum and P. vivax co-exist and 39.9 million in temperate regions with P. vivax transmission only.
In 2007, 54.7 million pregnancies occurred in areas with stable P. falciparum malaria and a further 70.5 million in areas with exceptionally low malaria transmission or with P. vivax only. These represent the first contemporary estimates of the global distribution of the number of pregnancies at risk of P. falciparum and P. vivax malaria and provide a first step towards a more informed estimate of the geographical distribution of infection rates and the corresponding disease burden of malaria in pregnancy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Malaria, a mosquito-borne parasitic disease, is a major global public-health problem. About half of the world's population is at risk of malaria, which kills about one million people every year. Most of these deaths are caused by Plasmodium falciparum, which thrives in tropical and subtropical regions. However, the most widely distributed type of malaria is P. vivax malaria, which also occurs in temperate regions. Most malaria deaths are among young children in sub-Saharan Africa, but pregnant women and their unborn babies are also very vulnerable to malaria. About 10,000 women and 200,000 babies die annually because of malaria in pregnancy, which can cause miscarriages, preterm births, and low-birth-weight births. Over the past decade, a three-pronged approach has been developed to prevent and control malaria in pregnancy. This approach consists of intermittent preventative treatment of pregnant women with antimalarial drugs, the use of insecticide-treated bed nets to protect pregnant women from the bites of infected mosquitoes, and management of malarial illness among pregnant women.
Why Was This Study Done?
This strategy has begun to reduce the burden of malaria among pregnant women and their babies but the resources available for its introduction are very limited in many of the developing countries where malaria is endemic (always present). Policy makers in these countries need to know the number of pregnancies at risk of malaria so that they can use their resources wisely. However, although the World Health Organization recently estimated that more than 30 million African women living in malaria endemic areas become pregnant and are at risk for malaria each year, there are no comprehensive and contemporary estimates of the number of pregnancies at risk of malaria for endemic areas outside Africa. In this study, the researchers derive global estimates of the number of women who became pregnant in 2007 in areas with P. falciparum and P. vivax transmission.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers estimated the sizes of populations at risk of malaria in 2007 by combining maps of the global limits of P. vivax and P. falciparum transmission with data on population densities. They used data from various sources to calculate the annual number of pregnancies (the sum of live births, induced abortions, miscarriages, and still births) in each country. Finally, they calculated the annual number of pregnancies at risk of malaria in each country by multiplying the number of pregnancies in the entire country by the fraction of the population living within the spatial limits of malaria transmission in that country. In 2007, they calculate, 125.2 million pregnancies occurred in areas with P. falciparum and/or P. vivax transmission. These pregnancies—60% of all pregnancies globally—resulted in 82.6 million live births. 77.4 million at-risk pregnancies occurred in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific (India had the most pregnancies at risk of both P. falciparum and P. vivax malaria), 30.3 million in Africa, 13.1 million in Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, and 4.3 million in the Americas. 54.7 million at-risk pregnancies occurred in regions with stable P. falciparum transmission (more than one case of malaria per 10,000 people per year), whereas 70.5 million occurred in areas with low malaria transmission or P. vivax transmission only.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings are the first contemporary estimates of the global distribution of the number of pregnancies at risk of P. falciparum and P. vivax malaria. They do not provide any information on the actual incidence of malaria during pregnancy or the health burden on mothers and unborn babies. They simply represent “any risk” of exposure. So, for example, the researchers calculate that only about 5,000 actual malaria infections may occur annually among the 70.5 million at-risk pregnancies in areas with very low malaria transmission or with P. vivax transmission only. Furthermore, these findings do not allow for the seasonality of malaria—pregnancies that occur outside of the transmission season may be at no or very low risk of malaria. Nevertheless, the estimates reported in this study are an important first step towards a spatial map of the burden of malaria in pregnancy and should help policy makers allocate resources for research into and control of this important public-health problem.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
Information is available from the World Health Organization on malaria and on malaria in pregnancy (in several languages)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provides information on malaria and on malaria in pregnancy (in English and Spanish)
Information is available from the Roll Back Malaria Partnership on all aspects of global malaria control, including information on malaria in pregnancy
The Malaria in Pregnancy Consortium is undertaking research into the prevention and treatment of malaria in pregnancy and also provides a comprehensive bibliographic database of published and unpublished literature relating to malaria in pregnancy
The Malaria Atlas Project provides maps of malaria transmission around the world
MedlinePlus provides links to additional information on malaria (in English and Spanish)
PMCID: PMC2811150  PMID: 20126256
14.  Estimating the Global Clinical Burden of Plasmodium falciparum Malaria in 2007 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(6):e1000290.
Simon Hay and colleagues derive contemporary estimates of the global clinical burden of Plasmodium falciparum malaria (the deadliest form of malaria) using cartography-based techniques.
The epidemiology of malaria makes surveillance-based methods of estimating its disease burden problematic. Cartographic approaches have provided alternative malaria burden estimates, but there remains widespread misunderstanding about their derivation and fidelity. The aims of this study are to present a new cartographic technique and its application for deriving global clinical burden estimates of Plasmodium falciparum malaria for 2007, and to compare these estimates and their likely precision with those derived under existing surveillance-based approaches.
Methods and Findings
In seven of the 87 countries endemic for P. falciparum malaria, the health reporting infrastructure was deemed sufficiently rigorous for case reports to be used verbatim. In the remaining countries, the mapped extent of unstable and stable P. falciparum malaria transmission was first determined. Estimates of the plausible incidence range of clinical cases were then calculated within the spatial limits of unstable transmission. A modelled relationship between clinical incidence and prevalence was used, together with new maps of P. falciparum malaria endemicity, to estimate incidence in areas of stable transmission, and geostatistical joint simulation was used to quantify uncertainty in these estimates at national, regional, and global scales.
Combining these estimates for all areas of transmission risk resulted in 451 million (95% credible interval 349–552 million) clinical cases of P. falciparum malaria in 2007. Almost all of this burden of morbidity occurred in areas of stable transmission. More than half of all estimated P. falciparum clinical cases and associated uncertainty occurred in India, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Myanmar (Burma), where 1.405 billion people are at risk.
Recent surveillance-based methods of burden estimation were then reviewed and discrepancies in national estimates explored. When these cartographically derived national estimates were ranked according to their relative uncertainty and replaced by surveillance-based estimates in the least certain half, 98% of the global clinical burden continued to be estimated by cartographic techniques.
Conclusions and Significance
Cartographic approaches to burden estimation provide a globally consistent measure of malaria morbidity of known fidelity, and they represent the only plausible method in those malaria-endemic countries with nonfunctional national surveillance. Unacceptable uncertainty in the clinical burden of malaria in only four countries confounds our ability to evaluate needs and monitor progress toward international targets for malaria control at the global scale. National prevalence surveys in each nation would reduce this uncertainty profoundly. Opportunities for further reducing uncertainty in clinical burden estimates by hybridizing alternative burden estimation procedures are also evaluated.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Malaria is a major global public-health problem. Nearly half the world's population is at risk of malaria, and Plasmodium falciparum malaria—the deadliest form of the disease—causes about one million deaths each year. Malaria is a parasitic disease that is transmitted to people through the bite of an infected mosquito. These insects inject a parasitic form known as sporozoites into people, where they replicate briefly inside liver cells. The liver cells then release merozoites (another parasitic form), which invade red blood cells. Here, the merozoites replicate rapidly before bursting out and infecting more red blood cells. This increase in the parasitic burden causes malaria's characteristic symptoms—debilitating and recurring fevers and chills. Infected red blood cells also release gametocytes, which infect mosquitoes when they take a blood meal. In the mosquito, the gametocytes multiply and develop into sporozoites, thus completing the parasite's life cycle. Malaria can be prevented by controlling the mosquitoes that spread the parasite and by avoiding mosquito bites. Effective treatment with antimalarial drugs also helps to reduce malaria transmission.
Why Was This Study Done?
In 1998, the World Health Organization (WHO) and several other international agencies launched Roll Back Malaria, a global partnership that aims to provide a coordinated, global approach to fighting malaria. For this or any other malaria control initiative to be effective, however, an accurate picture of the global clinical burden of malaria (how many people become ill because of malaria and where they live) is needed so that resources can be concentrated where they will have the most impact. Estimates of the global burden of many infectious diseases are obtained using data collected by national surveillance systems. Unfortunately, this approach does not work very well for malaria because in places where malaria is endemic (always present), diagnosis is often inaccurate and national reporting is incomplete. In this study, therefore, the researchers use an alternative, “cartographic” method for estimating the global clinical burden of P. falciparum malaria.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified seven P. falciparum malaria-endemic countries that had sufficiently reliable health information systems to determine the national clinical malaria burden in 2007 directly. They divided the other 80 malaria endemic countries into countries with a low risk of transmission (unstable transmission) and countries with a moderate or high risk of transmission (stable transmission). In countries with unstable transmission, the researchers assumed a uniform annual clinical incidence rate of 0.1 cases per 1,000 people and multiplied this by population sizes to get disease burden estimates. In countries with stable transmission, they used a modeled relationship between clinical incidence (number of new cases in a population per year) and prevalence (the proportion of a population infected with malaria parasites) and a global malaria endemicity map (a map that indicates the risk of malaria infection in different countries) to estimate malaria incidences. Finally, they used a technique called “joint simulation” to quantify the uncertainty in these estimates. Together, these disease burden estimates gave an estimated global burden of 451 million clinical cases of P. falciparum in 2007. Most of these cases occurred in areas of stable transmission and more than half occurred in India, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Myanmar. Importantly, these four nations alone contributed nearly half of the uncertainty in the global incidence estimates.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings are extremely valuable because they provide a global map of malaria cases that should facilitate the implementation and evaluation of malaria control programs. However, the estimate of the global clinical burden of P. falciparum malaria reported here is higher than the WHO estimate of 247 million cases each year that was obtained using surveillance-based methods. The discrepancy between the estimates obtained using the cartographic and the surveillance-based approach is particularly marked for India. The researchers discuss possible reasons for these discrepancies and suggest improvements that could be made to both methods to increase the validity and precision of estimates. Finally, they note that improvements in the national prevalence surveys in India, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Myanmar would greatly reduce the uncertainty associated with their estimate of the global clinical burden of malaria, an observation that should encourage efforts to improve malaria surveillance in these countries.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
A PLoS Medicine Health in Action article by Hay and colleagues, a Research Article by Guerra and colleagues, and a Research Article by Hay and colleagues provide further details about the global mapping of malaria risk
Additional national and regional level maps and more information on the global mapping of malaria are available at the Malaria Atlas Project
Information is available from the World Health Organization on malaria (in several languages)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide information on malaria (in English and Spanish)
Information is available from the Roll Back Malaria Partnership on its approach to the global control of malaria (in English and French)
MedlinePlus provides links to additional information on malaria (in English and Spanish)
PMCID: PMC2885984  PMID: 20563310
15.  A population based eye survey of older adults in Tirunelveli district of south India: blindness, cataract surgery, and visual outcomes 
Aims: To assess the prevalence of vision impairment, blindness, and cataract surgery and to evaluate visual acuity outcomes after cataract surgery in a south Indian population.
Methods: Cluster sampling was used to randomly select a cross sectional sample of people ≥50 years of age living in the Tirunelveli district of south India. Eligible subjects in 28 clusters were enumerated through a door to door household survey. Visual acuity measurements and ocular examinations were performed at a selected site within each of the clusters in early 2000. The principal cause of visual impairment was identified for eyes with presenting visual acuity <6/18. Independent replicate testing for quality assurance monitoring was performed in subjects with reduced vision and in a sample of those with normal vision for six of the study clusters.
Results: A total of 5795 people in 3986 households were enumerated and 5411 (93.37%) were examined. The prevalence of presenting and best corrected visual acuity ≥6/18 in both eyes was 59.4% and 75.7%, respectively. Presenting vision <6/60 in both eyes (the definition of blindness in India) was found in 11.0%, and in 4.6% with best correction. Presenting blindness was associated with older age, female sex, and illiteracy. Cataract was the principal cause of blindness in at least one eye in 70.6% of blind people. The prevalence of cataract surgery was 11.8%—with an estimated 56.5% of the cataract blind already operated on. Surgical coverage was inversely associated with illiteracy and with female sex in rural areas. Within the cataract operated sample, 31.7% had presenting visual acuity ≥6/18 in both eyes and 11.8% were <6/60; 40% were bilaterally operated on, with 63% pseudophakic. Presenting vision was <6/60 in 40.7% of aphakic eyes and in 5.1% of pseudophakic eyes; with best correction the percentages were 17.6% and 3.7%, respectively. Refractive error, including uncorrected aphakia, was the main cause of visual impairment in cataract operated eyes. Vision <6/18 was associated with cataract surgery in government, as opposed to that in non-governmental/private facilities. Age, sex, literacy, and area of residence were not predictors of visual outcomes.
Conclusion: Treatable blindness, particularly that associated with cataract and refractive error, remains a significant problem among older adults in south Indian populations, especially in females, the illiterate, and those living in rural areas. Further study is needed to better understand why a significant proportion of the cataract blind are not taking advantage of free of charge eye care services offered by the Aravind Eye Hospital and others in the district. While continuing to increase cataract surgical volume to reduce blindness, emphasis must also be placed on improving postoperative visual acuity outcomes.
PMCID: PMC1771133  PMID: 11973242
blindness; cataract surgery; visual acuity
16.  Effect of Household-Based Drinking Water Chlorination on Diarrhoea among Children under Five in Orissa, India: A Double-Blind Randomised Placebo-Controlled Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(8):e1001497.
Sophie Boisson and colleagues conducted a double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial in Orissa, a state in southeast India, to evaluate the effect of household water treatment in preventing diarrheal illnesses in children aged under five years of age.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Boiling, disinfecting, and filtering water within the home can improve the microbiological quality of drinking water among the hundreds of millions of people who rely on unsafe water supplies. However, the impact of these interventions on diarrhoea is unclear. Most studies using open trial designs have reported a protective effect on diarrhoea while blinded studies of household water treatment in low-income settings have found no such effect. However, none of those studies were powered to detect an impact among children under five and participants were followed-up over short periods of time. The aim of this study was to measure the effect of in-home water disinfection on diarrhoea among children under five.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a double-blind randomised controlled trial between November 2010 and December 2011. The study included 2,163 households and 2,986 children under five in rural and urban communities of Orissa, India. The intervention consisted of an intensive promotion campaign and free distribution of sodium dichloroisocyanurate (NaDCC) tablets during bi-monthly households visits. An independent evaluation team visited households monthly for one year to collect health data and water samples. The primary outcome was the longitudinal prevalence of diarrhoea (3-day point prevalence) among children aged under five. Weight-for-age was also measured at each visit to assess its potential as a proxy marker for diarrhoea. Adherence was monitored each month through caregiver's reports and the presence of residual free chlorine in the child's drinking water at the time of visit. On 20% of the total household visits, children's drinking water was assayed for thermotolerant coliforms (TTC), an indicator of faecal contamination. The primary analysis was on an intention-to-treat basis. Binomial regression with a log link function and robust standard errors was used to compare prevalence of diarrhoea between arms. We used generalised estimating equations to account for clustering at the household level. The impact of the intervention on weight-for-age z scores (WAZ) was analysed using random effect linear regression.
Over the follow-up period, 84,391 child-days of observations were recorded, representing 88% of total possible child-days of observation. The longitudinal prevalence of diarrhoea among intervention children was 1.69% compared to 1.74% among controls. After adjusting for clustering within household, the prevalence ratio of the intervention to control was 0.95 (95% CI 0.79–1.13). The mean WAZ was similar among children of the intervention and control groups (−1.586 versus −1.589, respectively). Among intervention households, 51% reported their child's drinking water to be treated with the tablets at the time of visit, though only 32% of water samples tested positive for residual chlorine. Faecal contamination of drinking water was lower among intervention households than controls (geometric mean TTC count of 50 [95% CI 44–57] per 100 ml compared to 122 [95% CI 107–139] per 100 ml among controls [p<0.001] [n = 4,546]).
Our study was designed to overcome the shortcomings of previous double-blinded trials of household water treatment in low-income settings. The sample size was larger, the follow-up period longer, both urban and rural populations were included, and adherence and water quality were monitored extensively over time. These results provide no evidence that the intervention was protective against diarrhoea. Low compliance and modest reduction in water contamination may have contributed to the lack of effect. However, our findings are consistent with other blinded studies of similar interventions and raise additional questions about the actual health impact of household water treatment under these conditions.
Trial Registration NCT01202383
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Millennium Development Goal 7 calls for halving the proportion of the global population without sustainable access to safe drinking water between 1990 and 2015. Although this target was met in 2010, according to latest figures, 768 million people world-wide still rely on unimproved drinking water sources. Access to clean drinking water is integral to good health and a key strategy in reducing diarrhoeal illness: Currently, 1.3 million children aged less than five years die of diarrhoeal illnesses every year with a sixth of such deaths occurring in one country—India. Although India has recently made substantial progress in improving water supplies throughout the country, currently almost 90% of the rural population does not have a water connection to their house and drinking water supplies throughout the country are extensively contaminated with human waste. A strategy internationally referred to as Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage (HWTS), which involves people boiling, chlorinating, and filtering water at home, has been recommended by the World Health Organization and UNICEF to improve water quality at the point of delivery.
Why Was This Study Done?
The WHO and UNICEF strategy to promote HWTS is based on previous studies from low-income settings that found that such interventions could reduce diarrhoeal illnesses by between 30%–40%. However, these studies had several limitations including reporting bias, short follow up periods, and small sample sizes; and importantly, in blinded studies (in which both the study participants and researchers are unaware of which participants are receiving the intervention or the control) have found no evidence that HWTS is protective against diarrhoeal illnesses. So the researchers conducted a blinded study (a double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial) in Orissa, a state in southeast India, to address those shortcomings and evaluate the effect of household water treatment in preventing diarrhoeal illnesses in children under five years of age.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers conducted their study in 11 informal settlements (where the inhabitants do not benefit from public water or sewers) in the state's capital city and also in 20 rural villages. 2,163 households were randomized to receive the intervention—the promotion and free distribution of sodium dichloroisocyanurate (chlorine) disinfection tablets with instruction on how to use them—or placebo tablets that were similar in appearance and had the same effervescent base as the chlorine tablets. Trained field workers visited households every month for 12 months (between December 2010 and December 2011) to record whether any child had experienced diarrhoea in the previous three days (as reported by the primary care giver). The researchers tested compliance with the intervention by asking participants if they had treated the water and also by testing for chlorine in the water.
Using these methods, the researchers found that over the 12-month follow-up period, the longitudinal prevalence of diarrhoea among children in the intervention group was 1.69% compared to 1.74% in the control group, a non-significant finding (a finding that could have happened by chance). There was also no difference in diarrhoea prevalence among other household members in the two groups and no difference in weight for age z scores (a measurement of growth) between children in the two groups. The researchers also found that although just over half (51%) of households in the intervention group reported treating their water, on testing, only 32% of water samples tested positive for chlorine. Finally, the researchers found that water quality (as measured by thermotolerant coliforms, TTCs) was better in the intervention group than the control group.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that treating water with chlorine tablets has no effect in reducing the prevalence of diarrhoea in both children aged under five years and in other household members in Orissa, India. However, poor compliance was a major issue with only a third of households in the intervention group confirmed as treating their water with chlorine tablets. Furthermore, these findings are limited in that the prevalence of diarrhoea was lower than expected, which may have also reduced the power of detecting a potential effect of the intervention. Nevertheless, this study raises questions about the health impact of household water treatment and highlights the key challenge of poor compliance with public health interventions.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
The website of the World Health Organization has a section dedicated to household water treatment and safe storage, including a network to promote the use of HWTS and a toolkit to measure HWTS
The Water Institute hosts the communications portal for the International Network on Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage
PMCID: PMC3747993  PMID: 23976883
17.  Epidemiology of blindness and visual impairment in the kingdom of Tonga. 
Data on the prevalence and causes of blindness and visual impairment in Polynesians are not readily available nor are they population based. This survey was designed to obtain an accurate estimate of blindness and its causes in Tonga. A sample of 4056 persons, aged 20 years and over, was selected by stratified cluster sampling. Participants received a screening, visual acuity examination, and, if visually impaired, were referred for detailed ophthalmic examination to determine the cause. The prevalence of bilateral blindness in the study population was 0.47% and all affected were aged over 50 years. It is estimated that the national prevalence of bilateral blindness, adjusted for the sample weight applied in the selection procedure, is 0.56% (95% confidence interval 0-1.13). Monocular blindness was three times more frequent. Cataract was responsible for 68.4% of bilateral and 30.3% of monocular blindness. Risk factors for life time experience of cataract included age and diabetes (self-reported). Neither smoking nor the presence of pterygium were independently associated with cataract. Increasing years of education were protective against cataract for women, but not men. Corneal opacity from infection or trauma, and diabetes were responsible for most of the remaining visual impairment. While these results do not represent a significant public health problem by world standards they do provide a basis for planning blindness prevention programmes in the region.
PMCID: PMC504784  PMID: 8025066
18.  Cataract prevalence, cataract surgical coverage and barriers to uptake of cataract surgical services in Pakistan: the Pakistan National Blindness and Visual Impairment Survey 
The British Journal of Ophthalmology  2007;91(10):1269-1273.
To estimate the prevalence of visual impairment and blindness caused by cataract, the prevalence of aphakia/pseudophakia, cataract surgical coverage (CSC) and to identify barriers to the uptake of cataract services among adults aged ⩾30 years in Pakistan.
Probability proportional‐to‐size procedures were used to select a nationally representative sample of adults. Each subject underwent interview, visual acuity measurement, autorefraction, biometry and ophthalmic examination. Those that saw <6/12 in either eye underwent a more intensive examination procedure including corrected visual acuity, slit lamp and dilated fundus examination. CSC was calculated for different levels of visual loss by person and by eye. Individuals with <6/60 in the better eye as a result of cataract were interviewed regarding barriers.
16 507 Adults were examined (95.5% response rate). The crude prevalence of blindness (presenting <3/60 in the better eye) caused by bilateral cataract was 1.75% (95% CI 1.55%, 1.96%). 1317 Participants (633 men; 684 women) had undergone cataract surgery in one or both eyes, giving a crude prevalence of 8.0% (95% CI 7.6%, 8.4%). The CSC (persons) at <3/60, <6/60 and <6/18 were 77.1%, 69.3% and 43.7%, respectively. The CSC (eyes) at <3/60, <6/60 and <6/18 were 61.4%, 52.2% and 40.7%, respectively. Cost of surgery (76.1%) was the main barrier to surgery.
Approximately 570 000 adults are estimated to be blind (<3/60) as a result of cataract in Pakistan, and 3 560 000 eyes have a visual acuity of <6/60 because of cataract. Overall, the national surgical coverage is good but underserved populations have been identified.
PMCID: PMC2001008  PMID: 17556430
cataract surgical coverage; barriers to eye care; pakistan; blindness; visual impairment
19.  Global Burden of Sickle Cell Anaemia in Children under Five, 2010–2050: Modelling Based on Demographics, Excess Mortality, and Interventions 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(7):e1001484.
Frédéric Piel and colleagues combine national sickle cell anemia (SCA) frequencies with projected demographic data to estimate the number of SCA births in children under five globally from 2010 to 2050, and then estimate the number of lives that could be be saved following implementation of specific health interventions starting in 2015.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
The global burden of sickle cell anaemia (SCA) is set to rise as a consequence of improved survival in high-prevalence low- and middle-income countries and population migration to higher-income countries. The host of quantitative evidence documenting these changes has not been assembled at the global level. The purpose of this study is to estimate trends in the future number of newborns with SCA and the number of lives that could be saved in under-five children with SCA by the implementation of different levels of health interventions.
Methods and Findings
First, we calculated projected numbers of newborns with SCA for each 5-y interval between 2010 and 2050 by combining estimates of national SCA frequencies with projected demographic data. We then accounted for under-five mortality (U5m) projections and tested different levels of excess mortality for children with SCA, reflecting the benefits of implementing specific health interventions for under-five patients in 2015, to assess the number of lives that could be saved with appropriate health care services. The estimated number of newborns with SCA globally will increase from 305,800 (confidence interval [CI]: 238,400–398,800) in 2010 to 404,200 (CI: 242,500–657,600) in 2050. It is likely that Nigeria (2010: 91,000 newborns with SCA [CI: 77,900–106,100]; 2050: 140,800 [CI: 95,500–200,600]) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2010: 39,700 [CI: 32,600–48,800]; 2050: 44,700 [CI: 27,100–70,500]) will remain the countries most in need of policies for the prevention and management of SCA. We predict a decrease in the annual number of newborns with SCA in India (2010: 44,400 [CI: 33,700–59,100]; 2050: 33,900 [CI: 15,900–64,700]). The implementation of basic health interventions (e.g., prenatal diagnosis, penicillin prophylaxis, and vaccination) for SCA in 2015, leading to significant reductions in excess mortality among under-five children with SCA, could, by 2050, prolong the lives of 5,302,900 [CI: 3,174,800–6,699,100] newborns with SCA. Similarly, large-scale universal screening could save the lives of up to 9,806,000 (CI: 6,745,800–14,232,700) newborns with SCA globally, 85% (CI: 81%–88%) of whom will be born in sub-Saharan Africa. The study findings are limited by the uncertainty in the estimates and the assumptions around mortality reductions associated with interventions.
Our quantitative approach confirms that the global burden of SCA is increasing, and highlights the need to develop specific national policies for appropriate public health planning, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Further empirical collaborative epidemiological studies are vital to assess current and future health care needs, especially in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and India.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
More than seven million babies are born each year with a structural or functional abnormality. Although some birth defects are caused by environmental factors, many are caused by the inheritance of a defective gene. One common inherited birth defect is sickle cell anemia (SCA). SCA arises when a baby inherits the gene for sickle hemoglobin (HbS), a structural variant of normal adult hemoglobin (HbA, the protein in the disc-shaped red blood cells that carry oxygen round the body), from both its parents. Every cell in the human body contains two full sets of genes, and babies inherit one set of genes from each parent. The parents usually each have one HbS gene and one HbA gene, and are unaffected. However, the red blood cells of their offspring who inherit two copies of HbS develop a sickle (crescent) shape. Sickle cells can block blood vessels in the limbs and organs and have a shorter lifespan than normal red blood cells, which causes anemia. Together, these changes can cause acute pain and organ damage, and can increase the risk of severe infections. SCA can be prevented by prenatal diagnosis and managed by interventions such as the provision of antibiotics and vaccination to prevent infections.
Why Was This Study Done?
Without early diagnosis and treatment, children with SCA often die within the first few years of life. Having one copy of the HbS gene provides people with protection from malaria, therefore SCA occurs mainly in low- and middle-income countries in tropical regions, where early diagnosis and treatment is often unavailable. Recent improvements in overall infant and childhood survival in these countries and population migration to higher-income countries mean that the global burden of SCA is likely to increase over the coming decades. To date, no one has tried to quantify this increase, although this information is needed to guide decisions on public health spending. In this modeling study, the researchers assess the size of the expected global burden of SCA between 2010 and 2050 in children under five years old and estimate the number of newborn lives that might be saved by implementation of various health interventions.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used estimates of national SCA frequencies and data on projected birth rates to calculate that the number of newborns with SCA will increase from about 305,800 in 2010 to about 404,200 in 2050. They estimated that Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and India accounted for 57% of newborns with SCA in 2010, and that Nigeria and the DRC will probably still be the countries most in need of policies for the prevention and management of SCA in 2050. The researchers then assessed how many newborns might be saved by the implementation of various health measures in 2015 that affect excess mortality (the difference between the frequency of SCA in newborns and in five-year-olds divided by the frequency of SCA in newborns) among children born with SCA. Implementation of prenatal diagnosis and newborn screening programs, and provision of antibiotics and vaccinations (interventions assumed by the researchers to reduce excess mortality from 90% to 50% in low- and middle-income countries and from 10% to 5% in high-income countries) could prolong the life of more than five million newborns with SCA by 2050. Implementation of universal screening and provision of other specific measures predicted to reduce excess mortality to 5% and 0% in low-to-middle-income countries and high-income countries, respectively, could save nearly ten million lives by 2050.
What Do These Findings Mean?
In estimating the global burden of SCA in children under five years old between 2010 and 2050 and the number of newborn lives that could be saved by implementation of health interventions, the researchers made numerous assumptions reflected in the uncertainty associated with the projections. For example, they assumed that implementation of specific interventions would lead to an immediate reduction of excess mortality in newborns with SCA. The study's findings confirm, however, that the global burden of SCA is increasing and indicate that the implementation of specific interventions could extend the lives of millions of newborns with SCA. Although further studies are needed to assess the current and future health care needs of children with SCA, these findings highlight the need to develop and implement national public health planning and funding policies for SCA, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Edward Fottrell and David Osrin
The US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provides detailed information (including personal stories) about sickle cell anemia (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website also provides detailed information and a personal story about sickle cell anemia
The Sickle Cell Society, a UK-based not-for-profit organization, provides information for patients and carers and includes a children's website
The World Health Organization has a factsheet on sickle cell anemia and other inherited hemoglobin diseases (in several languages)
MedlinePlus provides links to further resources about sickle cell anemia (in English and Spanish)
The Malaria Atlas Project provides epidemiological information on the inherited blood disorders (including sickle cell anemia) that affect our response to malaria infection
The Global Sickle Cell Disease Network is a portal bringing together leading sickle cell disease researchers and clinicians from high-, middle-, and low-income countries to form a network
PMCID: PMC3712914  PMID: 23874164
20.  Cataract blindness and barriers to uptake of cataract surgery in a rural community of northern Nigeria 
AIMS—A population based cross sectional survey was conducted to determine the magnitude of cataract blindness and the barriers to uptake of cataract services in a rural community of northern Nigeria.
METHODS—1461 people out of 1924 registered eligible people were examined. The study population was chosen by two stage cluster random sampling. In the first sampling stage 15 villages were randomly chosen while in the final stage 170 people who were 40 years and over were selected in each village. Each selected person had visual acuity recorded for both eyes. Those with vision of less than 3/60 in the better eye were assessed for cataract. People with cataract were asked why they had not sought medical attention.
RESULTS—A blindness prevalence of 8.2% (95% CI 5.8%-10.5%) was found among the sampled population. Cataract was responsible for 44.2% of the blindness. Thus, a cataract blindness prevalence of 3.6% was found. The cataract surgical coverage (people) was 4.0% and the couching coverage (people) was 18%. The main barrier to seeking cataract surgery was cost of the service (61%).
CONCLUSION—Some regions of the world still have high burden of cataract blindness that needs attention. Such areas need an effective free cataract outreach programme.

PMCID: PMC1724057  PMID: 11423446
21.  Incidence of visual loss in rural southwest Uganda 
Background: Surveys have been conducted to measure prevalence of eye disease in Africa, but not of incidence, which is needed to forecast trends. The incidence of visual loss is reported in southwest Uganda.
Methods: A rural population residing in 15 neighbouring villages was followed between 1994-5 (R1) and 1997-8 (R2). Survey staff screened adult residents (13 years or older) for visual acuity using laminated Snellen’s E optotype cards at each survey. Those who failed (VA >6/18) were evaluated by an ophthalmic clinical officer and an ophthalmologist. Incidence of visual loss (per 1000 person years (PY)) was calculated among those who had normal vision at R1.
Results: 2124 people were studied at both survey rounds (60.9% of those screened at R1); 48% were male. Participants in R1 were older (34.7 versus 31.5 years at R2, p<0.001). Visual loss in R2 occurred in 56 (2.8%) of 1997, yielding a crude incidence rate of 9.9, and an age standardised incidence rate of 13.2, per 1000 PY. Incidence of visual loss increased with age from 1.21 per 1000 PY among people aged 13–34 to 64.2 per 1000 PY in those aged 65 years or older (p for trend >0.001). The six commonest causes of visual loss were: cataract, refractive error, macular degeneration, chorioretinitis, glaucoma, and corneal opacity. If similar rates are assumed for the whole of Uganda, it is estimated that 30 348 people would develop bilateral blindness or bilateral visual impairment, per year.
Conclusions: Cataract and refractive error were the major causes of incident visual loss in south west Uganda. These data are valuable for forecasting and planning eye services.
PMCID: PMC1771764  PMID: 12812876
visual loss; E-optotype; epidemiology; screening; Snellen charts; blindness; Uganda
22.  Risk of cataract extraction among adult retinoblastoma survivors 
Archives of ophthalmology  2009;127(11):1500.
Background and Objectives
For over 100 years, radiotherapy has been widely used to treat retinoblastoma. One of the most common adverse effects of orbital radiotherapy is cataract formation. The objective of this study was to investigate the risk of cataract extraction among adult retinoblastoma survivors.
Methods and Design
A retrospective cohort study was performed on survivors who were diagnosed with retinoblastoma from 1914 to 1984 and responded to a telephone interview in 2000. The interview elicited information about medical outcomes including cataract extraction, demographic and several lifestyle factors. Doses to the lens of each eye for individuals were estimated from available radiotherapy (external beam therapy or brachytherapy) records. The cumulative time interval to cataract extraction between dose groups was compared using the log-rank test, and Cox regression was used to estimate hazard ratios of cataract extraction in multivariate analyses.
753 subjects (828 eyes) were available for analysis for an average of 32 years of follow-up per eye. During this period, 51 cataract extractions were reported. One extraction was reported in an eye with no radiotherapy compared to 36 extractions in 306 eyes with one course of radiotherapy, and 14 among 38 eyes with two or three courses of treatment. The average time interval to cataract extraction in irradiated eyes was 51 years (95% CI: 48–54) following one treatment and 32 years (95% CI: 27–37) for 2 or 3 treatments. Eyes exposed to a therapeutic radiation dose of 5 Gray (Gy) or more (mean exposure of 8.1 Gy) had a six-fold increased risk (95% CI: 1.3–27.2) for cataract extraction compared to eyes exposed to 2.5 Gy or less.
Nearly all cataracts that were extracted within 30 years after diagnosis of retinoblastoma could be associated with radiotherapy and more than 75% of the eyes treated with two or more radiotherapy treatments had a cataract extracted. The results emphasize the importance of ophthalmologic examination throughout adulthood of retinoblastoma survivors who have undergone radiotherapy. In contrast, the annual risk of cataract extraction in non treated eyes is comparable with the risk of the general population.
PMCID: PMC2818500  PMID: 19901216
23.  Routine Eye Examinations for Persons 20-64 Years of Age 
Executive Summary
The objective of this analysis was to determine the strength of association between age, gender, ethnicity, family history of disease and refractive error and the risk of developing glaucoma or ARM?
Clinical Need
A routine eye exam serves a primary, secondary, and tertiary care role. In a primary care role, it allows contact with a doctor who can provide advice about eye care, which may reduce the incidence of eye disease and injury. In a secondary care role, it can via a case finding approach, diagnose persons with degenerative eye diseases such as glaucoma and or AMD, and lead to earlier treatment to slow the progression of the disease. Finally in a tertiary care role, it provides ongoing monitoring and treatment to those with diseases associated with vision loss.
Glaucoma is a progressive degenerative disease of the optic nerve, which causes gradual loss of peripheral (side) vision, and in advanced disease states loss of central vision. Blindness may results if glaucoma is not diagnosed and managed. The prevalence of primary open angle glaucoma (POAG) ranges from 1.1% to 3.0% in Western populations, and from 4.2% to 8.8% in populations of African descent. It is estimated up to 50% of people with glaucoma are aware that they have the disease. In Canada, glaucoma disease is the second leading cause of blindness in people aged 50 years and older. Tonometry, inspection of the optic disc and perimetry are used concurrently by physicians and optometrists to make the diagnosis of glaucoma. In general, the evidence shows that treating people with increased IOP only, increased IOP and clinical signs of early glaucoma or with normal-tension glaucoma can reduce the progression of disease.
Age-related maculopathy (ARM) is a degenerative disease of the macula, which is a part of the retina. Damage to the macula causes loss of central vision affecting the ability to read, recognize faces and to move about freely. ARM can be divided into an early- stage (early ARM) and a late-stage (AMD). AMD is the leading cause of blindness in developed countries. The prevalence of AMD increases with increasing age. It is estimated that 1% of people 55 years of age, 5% aged 75 to 84 years and 15% 80 years of age and older have AMD. ARM can be diagnosed during fundoscopy (ophthalmoscopy) which is a visual inspection of the retina by a physician or optometrist, or from a photograph of the retina. There is no cure or prevention for ARM. Likewise, there is currently no treatment to restore vision lost due to AMD. However, there are treatments to delay the progression of the disease and further loss of vision.
The Technology
A periodic oculo-visual assessment is defined “as an examination of the eye and vision system rendered primarily to determine if a patient has a simple refractive error (visual acuity assessment) including myopia, hypermetropia, presbyopia, anisometropia or astigmatism.” This service includes a history of the presenting complaint, past medical history, visual acuity examination, ocular mobility examination, slit lamp examination of the anterior segment, ophthalmoscopy, and tonometry (measurement of IOP) and is completed by either a physician or an optometrist.
Review Strategy
The Medical Advisory Secretariat conducted a computerized search of the literature in the following databases: OVID MEDLINE, MEDLINE, In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations, EMBASE, INAHTA and the Cochrane Library. The search was limited to English-language articles with human subjects, published from January 2000 to March 2006. In addition, a search was conducted for published guidelines, health technology assessments, and policy decisions. Bibliographies of references of relevant papers were searched for additional references that may have been missed in the computerized database search. Studies including participants 20 years and older, population-based prospective cohort studies, population-based cross-sectional studies when prospective cohort studies were unavailable or insufficient and studies determining and reporting the strength of association or risk- specific prevalence or incidence rates of either age, gender, ethnicity, refractive error or family history of disease and the risk of developing glaucoma or AMD were included in the review. The Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) system was used to summarize the overall quality of the body of evidence.
Summary of Findings
A total of 498 citations for the period January 2000 through February 2006 were retrieved and an additional 313 were identified when the search was expanded to include articles published between 1990 and 1999. An additional 6 articles were obtained from bibliographies of relevant articles. Of these, 36 articles were retrieved for further evaluation. Upon review, 1 meta-analysis and 15 population-based epidemiological studies were accepted for this review
Primary Open Angle Glaucoma
Six cross-sectional studies and 1 prospective cohort study contributed data on the association between age and PAOG. From the data it can be concluded that the prevalence and 4-year incidence of POAG increases with increasing age. The odds of having POAG are statistically significantly greater for people 50 years of age and older relative to those 40 to 49 years of age. There is an estimated 7% per year incremental odds of having POAG in persons 40 years of age and older, and 10% per year in persons 49 years of age and older. POAG is undiagnosed in up to 50% of the population. The quality of the evidence is moderate.
Five cross-sectional studies evaluated the association between gender and POAG. Consistency in estimates is lacking among studies and because of this the association between gender and prevalent POAG is inconclusive. The quality of the evidence is very low.
Only 1 cross-sectional study compared the prevalence rates of POAG between black and white participants. These data suggest that prevalent glaucoma is statistically significantly greater in a black population 50 years of age and older compared with a white population of similar age. There is an overall 4-fold increase in prevalent POAG in a black population compared with a white population. This increase may be due to a confounding variable not accounted for in the analysis. The quality of the evidence is low.
Refractive Error
Four cross-sectional studies assessed the association of myopia and POAG. These data suggest an association between myopia defined as a spherical equivalent of -1.00D or worse and prevalent POAG. However, there is inconsistency in results regarding the statistical significance of the association between myopia when defined as a spherical equivalent of -0.5D. The quality of the evidence is very low.
Family History of POAG
Three cross-sectional studies investigated the association between family history of glaucoma and prevalent POAG. These data suggest a 2.5 to 3.0 fold increase in the odds having POAG in persons with a family history (any first-degree relative) of POAG. The quality of the evidence is moderate.
Age-Related Maculopathy
Four cohort studies evaluated the association between age and early ARM and AMD. After 55 years of age, the incidence of both early ARM and AMD increases with increasing age. Progression to AMD occurs in up to 12% of persons with early ARM. The quality of the evidence is low
Four cohort studies evaluated the association between gender and early ARM and AMD. Gender differences in incident early ARM and incident AMD are not supported from these data. The quality of the evidence is lows.
One meta-analysis and 2 cross-sectional studies reported the ethnic-specific prevalence rates of ARM. The data suggests that the prevalence of early ARM is higher in a white population compared with a black population. The data suggest that the ethnic-specific differences in the prevalence of AMD remain inconclusive.
Refractive Error
Two cohort studies investigated the association between refractive error and the development of incident early ARM and AMD. The quality of the evidence is very low.
Family History
Two cross-sectional studies evaluated the association of family history and early ARM and AMD. Data from one study supports an association between a positive family history of AMD and having AMD. The results of the study indicate an almost 4-fold increase in the odds of any AMD in a person with a family history of AMD. The quality of the evidence, as based on the GRADE criteria is moderate.
Economic Analysis
The prevalence of glaucoma is estimated at 1 to 3% for a Caucasian population and 4.2 to 8.8% for a black population. The incidence of glaucoma is estimated at 0.5 to 2.5% per year in the literature. The percentage of people who go blind per year as a result of glaucoma is approximately 0.55%.
The total population of Ontarians aged 50 to 64 years is estimated at 2.6 million based on the April 2006 Ontario Ministry of Finance population estimates. The range of utilization for a major eye examination in 2006/07 for this age group is estimated at 567,690 to 669,125, were coverage for major eye exams extended to this age group. This would represent a net increase in utilization of approximately 440,116 to 541,551.
The percentage of Ontario population categorized as black and/or those with a family history of glaucoma was approximately 20%. Therefore, the estimated range of utilization for a major eye examination in 2006/07 for this sub-population is estimated at 113,538 - 138,727 (20% of the estimated range of utilization in total population of 50-64 year olds in Ontario), were coverage for major eye exams extended to this sub-group. This would represent a net increase in utilization of approximately 88,023 to 108,310 within this sub-group.
The total cost of a major eye examination by a physician is $42.15, as per the 2006 Schedule of Benefits for Physician Services.(1) The total difference between the treatments of early-stage versus late-stage glaucoma was estimated at $167. The total cost per recipient was estimated at $891/person.
Current Ontario Policy
As of November 1, 2004 persons between 20 years and 64 years of age are eligible for an insured eye examination once every year if they have any of the following medical conditions: diabetes mellitus type 1 or 2, glaucoma, cataract(s), retinal disease, amblyopia, visual field defects, corneal disease, or strabismus. Persons between 20 to 64 years of age who do not have diabetes mellitus, glaucoma, cataract(s), retinal disease, amblyopia, visual field defects, corneal disease, or strabismus may be eligible for an annual eye examination if they have a valid “request for major eye examination” form completed by a physician (other than that who completed the eye exam) or a nurse practitioner working in a collaborative practice. Persons 20-64 years of age who are in receipt of social assistance and who do not have one of the 8 medical conditions listed above are eligible to receive an eye exam once every 2 years as a non-OHIP government funded service. Persons 19 years of age or younger and 65 years of age or older may receive an insured eye exam once every year.
Considerations for Policy Development
As of July 17, 2006 there were 1,402 practicing optometrists in Ontario. As of December 31, 2005 there were 404 practicing ophthalmologists in Ontario. It is unknown how many third party payers now cover routine eye exams for person between the ages of 20 and 64 years of age in Ontario.
PMCID: PMC3379534  PMID: 23074485
24.  Prevalence of Visually Significant Cataract and Factors Associated with Unmet Need for Cataract Surgery: Los Angeles Latino Eye Study 
Ophthalmology  2009;116(12):2327-2335.
To estimate in a United States (U.S.) Latino population the prevalence of visually significant cataract, and to report predisposing, enabling, need, and health behavior characteristics associated with the unmet need for cataract surgery (UNCS).
Population-based, cross-sectional study.
6142 Latinos 40 years and older from 6 census tracts in Los Angeles County, California.
Participants completed an in-home interview and a comprehensive eye examination which included assessment of lens opacification, using the slit lamp-based Lens Opacities Classification System II (LOCS II), and best-corrected visual acuity (BCVA). Visually significant cataract was defined by: any LOCS II grading ≥2, BCVA <20/40, cataract as the primary cause of vision impairment, and self-reported vision of fair or worse. Because cataract surgery is not needed in all persons, participants with a visually significant cataract or prior cataract surgery in at least one eye composed the at-risk cohort needing cataract surgery. UNCS was defined as any person in the at-risk cohort who had at least one eye with a visually significant cataract. Univariate and stepwise logistic regression analyses were used to identify predisposing, enabling, need, and health behavior characteristics associated with UNCS.
Main Outcome Measure
Prevalence of visually significant cataract, and odds ratios for factors associated with UNCS.
Of 6142 participants who completed the interview and clinical examination, 118 (1.92%) had visually significant cataract in at least one eye. Of the 344 participants who have needed cataract surgery, 118 (29.9%) had UNCS. Independent factors associated with UNCS included health behavior - having last eye exam ≥5 years ago compared to <1 year ago (odds ratio; 95% confidence interval [OR], 3.76; 1.71-8.25)- and enabling factors - being uninsured (OR, 2.79; 1.30- 5.19), income less than $20,000 (OR, 2.60; 1.40-5.56), and self-reported barriers to eye care (OR 2.41; 1.14-5.13).
Latinos in our study had a substantial unmet need for cataract surgery. As Latinos with specific health behavior and enabling characteristics were more likely to have UNCS, interventions aimed at modifying these characteristics may be beneficial in reducing the unmet need and thus reducing the burden of visual impairment related to cataract in the U.S.
PMCID: PMC2787839  PMID: 19815276
25.  Alternative Strategies to Reduce Maternal Mortality in India: A Cost-Effectiveness Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(4):e1000264.
A cost-effectiveness study by Sue Goldie and colleagues finds that better family planning, provision of safe abortion, and improved intrapartum and emergency obstetrical care could reduce maternal mortality in India by 75% in 5 years.
Approximately one-quarter of all pregnancy- and delivery-related maternal deaths worldwide occur in India. Taking into account the costs, feasibility, and operational complexity of alternative interventions, we estimate the clinical and population-level benefits associated with strategies to improve the safety of pregnancy and childbirth in India.
Methods and Findings
Country- and region-specific data were synthesized using a computer-based model that simulates the natural history of pregnancy (both planned and unintended) and pregnancy- and childbirth-associated complications in individual women; and considers delivery location, attendant, and facility level. Model outcomes included clinical events, population measures, costs, and cost-effectiveness ratios. Separate models were adapted to urban and rural India using survey-based data (e.g., unmet need for birth spacing/limiting, facility births, skilled birth attendants). Model validation compared projected maternal indicators with empiric data. Strategies consisted of improving coverage of effective interventions that could be provided individually or packaged as integrated services, could reduce the incidence of a complication or its case fatality rate, and could include improved logistics such as reliable transport to an appropriate referral facility as well as recognition of referral need and quality of care. Increasing family planning was the most effective individual intervention to reduce pregnancy-related mortality. If over the next 5 y the unmet need for spacing and limiting births was met, more than 150,000 maternal deaths would be prevented; more than US$1 billion saved; and at least one of every two abortion-related deaths averted. Still, reductions in maternal mortality reached a threshold (∼23%–35%) without including strategies that ensured reliable access to intrapartum and emergency obstetrical care (EmOC). An integrated and stepwise approach was identified that would ultimately prevent four of five maternal deaths; this approach coupled stepwise improvements in family planning and safe abortion with consecutively implemented strategies that incrementally increased skilled attendants, improved antenatal/postpartum care, shifted births away from home, and improved recognition of referral need, transport, and availability/quality of EmOC. The strategies in this approach ranged from being cost-saving to having incremental cost-effectiveness ratios less than US$500 per year of life saved (YLS), well below India's per capita gross domestic product (GDP), a common benchmark for cost-effectiveness.
Early intensive efforts to improve family planning and control of fertility choices and to provide safe abortion, accompanied by a paced systematic and stepwise effort to scale up capacity for integrated maternal health services over several years, is as cost-effective as childhood immunization or treatment of malaria, tuberculosis, or HIV. In just 5 y, more than 150,000 maternal deaths would be averted through increasing contraception rates to meet women's needs for spacing and limiting births; nearly US$1.5 billion would be saved by coupling safe abortion to aggressive family planning efforts; and with stepwise investments to improve access to pregnancy-related health services and to high-quality facility-based intrapartum care, more than 75% of maternal deaths could be prevented. If accomplished over the next decade, the lives of more than one million women would be saved.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Every year, more than half a million women—most of them living in developing countries—die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications. About a quarter of these “maternal” deaths occur in India. In 2005, a woman's lifetime risk of maternal death in India was 1 in 70; in the UK, it was only one in 8,200. Similarly, the maternal mortality ratio (MMR; number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) in India was 450, whereas in the UK it was eight. Faced with the enormous maternal death toll in India and other developing countries, in September 2000, the United Nations pledged, as its fifth Millennium Development Goal (MDG 5), that the global MMR would be reduced to a quarter of its 1990 level by 2015. Currently, it seems unlikely that this target will be met. Between 1990 and 2005, global maternal deaths decreased by only 1% per annum instead of the 5% needed to reach MDG 5; in India, the decrease in maternal deaths between 1990 and 2005 was about 1.8% per annum.
Why Was This Study Done?
Most maternal deaths in developing countries are caused by severe bleeding after childbirth, infections soon after delivery, blood pressure disorders during pregnancy, and obstructed (difficult) labors. Consequently, experts agree that universal access to high-quality routine care during labor (“obstetric” care) and to emergency obstetrical care is needed to reduce maternal deaths. However, there is less agreement about how to adapt these “ideal recommendations” to specific situations. In developing countries with weak health systems and predominantly rural populations, it is unlikely that all women will have access to emergency obstetric care in the near future—so would beginning with improved access to family planning and to safe abortions (unsafe abortion is another major cause of maternal death) be a more achievable, more cost-effective way of reducing maternal deaths? How would family planning and safe abortion be coupled efficiently and cost-effectively with improved access to intrapartum care? In this study, the researchers investigate these questions by estimating the health and economic outcomes of various strategies to reduce maternal mortality in India.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used a computer-based model that simulates women through pregnancy and childbirth to estimate the effect of different strategies (for example, increased family planning or increased access to obstetric care) on clinical outcomes (pregnancies, live births, or deaths), costs, and cost-effectiveness (the cost of saving one year of life) in India. Increased family planning was the most effective single intervention for the reduction of pregnancy-related mortality. If the current unmet need for family planning in India could be fulfilled over the next 5 years, more than 150,000 maternal deaths would be prevented, more than US$1 billion saved, and at least half of abortion-related deaths averted. However, increased family planning alone would reduce maternal deaths by 35% at most, so the researchers also used their model to test the effect of combinations of strategies on maternal death. They found that an integrated and stepwise approach (increased family planning and safe abortion combined with consecutively increased skilled birth attendants, improved care before and after birth, reduced home births, and improved emergency obstetric care) could eventually prevent nearly 80% of maternal deaths. All the steps in this strategy either saved money or involved an additional cost per year of life saved of less than US$500; given one suggested threshold for cost-effectiveness in India of the per capita GDP (US$1,068) per year of life saved, these strategies would be considered very cost-effective.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The accuracy of these findings depends on the assumptions used to build the model and the quality of the data fed into it. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that early intensive efforts to improve family planning and to provide safe abortion accompanied by a systematic, stepwise effort to improve integrated maternal health services could reduce maternal deaths in India by more than 75% in less than a decade. Furthermore, such a strategy would be cost-effective. Indeed, note the researchers, the cost savings from an initial focus on family planning and safe abortion provision would partly offset the resources needed to assure that every woman had access to high quality routine and emergency obstetric care. Thus, overall, these findings suggest that MDG 5 may be within reach in India, a conclusion that should help to mobilize political support for this worthy goal.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
UNICEF (the United Nations Children's Fund) provides information on maternal mortality, including the WHO/UNICEF/UNFPA/The World Bank 2005 country estimates of maternal mortality
The World Health Organization also provides information on maternal health and about MDG 5 (in several languages)
The United Nations Millennium Development Goals Web site provides detailed information about the Millennium Declaration, the MDGs, their targets and their indicators, and about MDG 5.
The Millennium Development Goals Report 2009 and its progress chart provide an up-to-date assessment of progress toward all the MDGs
Computer simulation modeling as applied to health is further discussed at the Center for Health Decision Science at Harvard University
PMCID: PMC2857650  PMID: 20421922

Results 1-25 (1614339)