Aim: This cross sectional study was undertaken to identify the major causes of childhood severe visual impairment/blindness (SVI/BL) among students in schools for the blind in south eastern Nigeria with a view to offering treatment to those with remediable blindness.
Methods: 142 students attending three schools for the blind in the study area were interviewed and examined using the World Health Organization programme for prevention of blindness (WHO/PBL) childhood blindness proforma.
Results: By anatomical classification, the major causes of SVI/BL identified in the children (aged 15 years or less) were lesions of the lens (30.4%), corneal lesions (21.7%), whole globe lesions (mainly phthisis bulbi) (17.4%), and glaucoma/buphthalmos (10.9%). For the young adults (more than 15 years) these lesions accounted for 31.9%, 21.3%, 23.4%, and 8.5% of SVI/BL, respectively. For all the students, the commonest single diagnoses were cataract (23.5%) and corneal scarring (21.4%), of which 86.7% were caused by measles. By aetiological classification, childhood factors (38.6%) constituted the major cause of blindness: 37.0% in the children and 39.4% in the young adults. In 74.5% of all the students, blindness was considered avoidable.
Conclusions: A high proportion of childhood blindness in schools for the blind in south eastern Nigeria is avoidable. Development of paediatric ophthalmology in Nigeria to manage childhood cataract and glaucoma is advocated.