Incidence of blinding vitamin A deficiency in North West Frontier Province and its adjoining Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan

Mohammad Aman Khan, Clare Gilbert, Mohammad Daud Khan, Mohammad Babar Qureshi, Khabir Ahmad
Ophthalmic Epidemiology 2009, 16 (1): 2-7

PURPOSE: To identify children aged 0-72 months with blinding xerophthalmia in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and its adjoining Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan, using a new surveillance system, and to describe socio-economic and other characteristics of reported cases.

METHODS: All ophthalmologists in district headquarter hospitals in NWFP and agency headquarter hospitals in FATA were requested to participate in a surveillance programme for the detection of blinding xerophthalmia (corneal xerosis, corneal ulcers, keratomalacia and corneal scars related to vitamin A deficiency) for children aged 0-72 months. The surveillance included reporting of each case of blinding xerophthalmia presenting to the participating eye units over a period of 12 months and recording their socio-economic and other related characteristics.

RESULTS: Seventy six cases of blinding xerophthalmia were reported and there was almost no gender difference. Children came from 19 of 31 districts and agencies in NWFP and FATA with a working ophthalmologist. The commonest age at presentation was 25-48 months and almost half of them belonged to households with a monthly income of < Pak Rs. 1200 (US $ < 20). Precipitating systemic illnesses were diarrhea and fever with cough in 63.2% and 56.6% cases, respectively. Almost a third of children aged > 9 months had not been immunized against measles. A quarter of all children had not been adequately breast-fed, and 7 children (9%) had never been breastfed. Majority of the cases presented during summer and autumn months.

CONCLUSIONS: Our surveillance data provide evidence that blinding xerophthalmia does occur in children in NWFP and its adjoining FATA. The surveillance system identified high risk age groups, systemic illnesses, seasons and community groups. The detection system detects minimal numbers of cases and it is likely that the problem is even more severe.

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