Data on the prevalence and causes of blindness and visual impairment in Polynesians are not readily available nor are they population based. This survey was designed to obtain an accurate estimate of blindness and its causes in Tonga. A sample of 4056 persons, aged 20 years and over, was selected by stratified cluster sampling. Participants received a screening, visual acuity examination, and, if visually impaired, were referred for detailed ophthalmic examination to determine the cause. The prevalence of bilateral blindness in the study population was 0.47% and all affected were aged over 50 years. It is estimated that the national prevalence of bilateral blindness, adjusted for the sample weight applied in the selection procedure, is 0.56% (95% confidence interval 0-1.13). Monocular blindness was three times more frequent. Cataract was responsible for 68.4% of bilateral and 30.3% of monocular blindness. Risk factors for life time experience of cataract included age and diabetes (self-reported). Neither smoking nor the presence of pterygium were independently associated with cataract. Increasing years of education were protective against cataract for women, but not men. Corneal opacity from infection or trauma, and diabetes were responsible for most of the remaining visual impairment. While these results do not represent a significant public health problem by world standards they do provide a basis for planning blindness prevention programmes in the region.
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