PCVI News Room

Climate change increases cataract blindness risk

SYDNEY, April 7, 2008

Climate change will increase the risk of people losing their sight through cataracts because of higher levels of ultraviolet rays, an expert said on Monday. "The three main risk factors that lead to cataract blindness are age, smoking and UV exposure, in that order," said Andreas Mueller of the Fred Hollows Foundation.

"Climate change will increase UV levels and therefore increase the risk of developing cataracts," the doctor said in a statement to mark World Health Day, which this year has the theme "Protecting health from climate change".

A spokesman for the foundation, which works mostly in developing countries to restore sight to people with cataracts, said the increased exposure to ultraviolet rays would be caused by depletion of the ozone layer.

Although cataracts can be overcome with a relatively routine operation, they are responsible for almost 50 per cent of cases of avoidable blindness worldwide, the statement said.

"In terms of cataract blindness, the figures show those who are most at risk of vision loss are people with no access to services to reverse the condition," said Mr Mueller.

The foundation stressed the importance of taking preventive measures and protecting the eyesight of children who spend long periods of time outdoors, often without sunglasses.

"The solution can be as simple as choosing good sun protection, by wearing things like wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses," said Mr Mueller.

Infectious and respiratory diseases

In a separate report released on Sunday, Australian doctors found that climate change would lead to higher rates of some infectious and respiratory diseases as well as more injuries from storms and bushfires.

Doctors for Environment Australia found that over the next decade the health of children and the elderly would be most at risk from rising temperatures.

"Climate change is already a reality in our waiting rooms and surgeries - and is set to become a key challenge for our health system over the coming decade," the report's co-author Graeme Horton said.