Light in the Darkness

The Nepal Blindness Survey of 1981 and Seva's impact on global eye health today.

The Epidemiology of Blindness in Nepal

Report of the 1981 Nepal Blindness Survey

The Seva Foundation was born out of an ambitious experiment led by a dedicated team of scientists, researchers, social activists and academics. Their mission was to identify the most urgent yet solvable global public health challenge. In the late 1970s, the issue of vision impairment was alarmingly overlooked on the global health agenda. The Nepal Blindness Survey changed all of that. This first of its kind, comprehensive, longitudinal study across multiple zones in one of the world's economically challenged nations was carried out with a blend of expertise, determination, and compassion by members of what was the newly minted Seva Foundation.

The findings of the Nepal Blindness Survey sparked a revolution in the global eye health agenda. It revealed cataracts as the primary cause of blindness, with a higher prevalence of blindness among women, primarily due to barriers like geographic constraints, financial limitations, and societal norms. This groundbreaking research paved the way for the establishment of Nepal's inaugural National Blindness Prevention Program. This program was a collaborative effort between Seva and the Nepali government to build a robust eye care infrastructure in each of the country's 14 zones. Recent data collected in the past year (2022) indicates that the backlog of cataract cases has been successfully cleared, thanks in large part to the survey's findings and significant investment by the global community.

Over the subsequent four decades, the same scientific rigor, data-driven approach, cultural humility, and programmatic excellence employed in the Nepal Blindness Survey have shaped a new generation of evidence-informed community eye care practices. Since this study concluded in 1981, the Seva Foundation, together with our partners, has helped more than 57 million people see again. Seva continues with the tradition of technological innovation and rigorous research. Specifically, a new Seva Foundation research paper published in November of 2023 and conducted by a Harvard economist concludes that every $1 invested in eye health returns $36 in benefits across society. Be it greater income, more learning, or productivity at work, we have put a specific value to what we all have known for decades - entire nations lose out when an individual’s sight is on the line.

Kate Moynihan
CEO and Executive Director of Seva

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Photo by Jon Kaplan.

Above: Nepal photo by Jon Kaplan.

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