Yusuff Moshood

Without additional investment in global eye health, an estimated 1.8 billion people may be living with untreated vision impairment by 2050, a new report has warned.

The report, published in The Lancet Global Health on February 16, stated that the majority of those to be affected by vision impairment (90 per cent) would come from low-and-middle-income countries, adding that the greatest majority would be from Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

While noting that eye health is key for the global development of a healthier, more equitable world, the report noted that vision loss could be treated in one billion people worldwide.

The Global Eye Health Commission, report was authored by 73 leading experts from 25 countries.

The commission is co-chaired by Professor Matthew Burton, Director of the International Centre for Eye Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and Professor Hannah Faal, Professor of International Eye Health at the University of Calabar, Nigeria.

According to the authors, “avoidable vision loss could be addressed with existing, highly cost-effective treatments.

“This would improve inclusion of people living with permanent vision loss in society and offers enormous potential to improve the economic outlook of individuals and nations, and to contribute to a healthier, safer, more equitable world”.

The report stated that eye care should be included in mainstream health services and development policies, noting that it is essential to achieving universal health coverage and the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

According to the World Health Organisation, at least one billion people globally have a near or distance vision impairment that could have been prevented or has yet to be addressed.

The leading causes of vision impairment and blindness, WHO said, are uncorrected refractive errors and cataracts, adding that the majority of people with vision impairment and blindness are over the age of 50 years.

Speaking about the report, Prof. Burton said: “It is unacceptable that more than a billion people worldwide are needlessly living with treatable vision impairment.

“Vision impairment leads to detrimental effects for health, wellbeing, and economic development including reduced education and employment opportunities, social isolation, and shorter life expectancy.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic brings renewed emphasis on building resilient and responsive health systems, eye health must take its rightful place within the mainstream health agenda and global development.”

The report also disclosed that in 2020, an estimated 596 million people worldwide were living with an untreated ‘distance vision impairment’ (such as cataract, glaucoma, or diabetes-related eye complications), of whom 43 million people were blind.

It stated further that 510 million were unable to see near objects simply due to a lack of glasses, adding that many more people have ongoing eye care needs such as those with diabetes who need regular eye checks.

The report warned that if decisive action is not taken, the number of people with distance vision impairment is expected to rise to 895 million, including 61 million people living with blindness by 2050.

“In addition, 866 million are expected to have unaddressed presbyopia (the inability to focus on nearby objects), it said.

The authors said that enhancing eye health is essential to achieving many of the SDGs—contributing to improvements in gender equality, education, employment prospects, work productivity, household income, and economic productivity.

“Vision impairment perpetuates cycles of poverty and inequity, with 90 per cent of cases occurring in low-and-middle-income countries.

“In 2020, rates of blindness were up to nine times higher in western sub-Saharan Africa (with 1.11 per cent of adults affected) than in high-income North America (0.12 per cent).

“Most people who are blind or have moderate to severe vision loss live in South Asia (108 million), East Asia (63 million), and Southeast Asia (35 million),” it said.

The report also emphasised that inadequate eye care specialist is a major challenge to the provision of quality eye care in poor countries, noting that one ophthalmologist serves one million people in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, compared to an average of 76 ophthalmologists per million people in high-income countries.

The Global Eye Health Commission co-Chair, Professor Hannah Faal, said: “Business as usual will not address these inequities or keep pace with rapidly increasing and ageing populations.

“This is particularly true in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, which account for over two-thirds of global cases.

“With urgent investment and a coordinated response, we have an opportunity to help create a fairer society for future generations through improved eye health.”

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