PAVAGADA (TUMKUR DISTRICT): Ramya was a bubbly child and attended school till she was four. That was two years ago, when her vision began to deteriorate until she completely lost sight in both eyes.
The little girl began to withdraw and sit quietly the whole day in her home in Pavagada, 180 km from Bangalore. Playing, meeting friends — everything came to a standstill. She was diagnosed with Lamellar Congenital cataract — a condition wherein the eye lens are damaged.

Ditto with 13-year-old Syed Wasim who can only hear what the teacher says in the classroom. Retina degeneration set in and the boy lost his vision completely. There are children in this taluk with the same disorder, like Lakshmi who is active till 6pm. After that, she confines herself to her room and cuts herself from the world, doesn’t speak to anyone because she cannot see anything after dusk. The practice of marrying close relatives (consanguineous marriage) coupled with high fluoride content in water and Vitamin A deficiencies is ruining the lives of children of this taluk.

Worse, parents wait till the child is nine years old to get her examined by a doctor. “By then it is too late and the damage is done. It is crucial to treat any eye disorder early and during the first few years of life. If left untreated, it cannot be set right at a later stage,’’ says Dr K Vasudha, head, paediatric opthalmology, Narayana Netralaya, Bangalore.

Alarmed by the pattern in eye diseases among children in Pavagada taluk and the increasing cases of blindness, Narayana Netralaya, in collaboration with Narayana Hrudalaya and Shree Sharada Devi Eye hospital and Research Centre in Pavagada, has begun one of the largest studies on eye disorders involving 29,800 children. “When we noticed an unusual trend in the disorders, we realized it must be a local problem. We’re studying the root cause of the high incidence of child blindness. It could be multiple factors — fluoride content, consanguineous marriages, etc.’’ medical director of Narayana Netralaya Dr K Bhujang Shetty told STOI.