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Addressing avoidable vision loss will help contribute to a healthier, safer, and more equitable world, says Matthew Burton, Director of the International Centre for Eye Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and co-chair of a new Commission on Global Eye Health, published in The Lancet Global Health journal.
The Lancet Global Health Commission on Global Eye Health is the work of an interdisciplinary group of 73 academics and national programme leaders and practitioners from 25 countries. Building on WHO’s World Report on Vision and the ‘VISION 2020: The Right to Sight’ programme, the authors analysed all aspects of eye health in 2020 and beyond.
The Commission highlights that by using existing and cost-effective treatments to tackle vision loss, there is enormous potential to improve the economic outlook of individuals and nations. The report sets out the challenges we face in vision, the existing solutions, and the potential for progress if we invest in eye health now.
Using the latest figures from the Vision Loss Expert Group, the report shows that in 2020, 1.1 billion people were living with untreated impaired vision. Hundreds of millions more need ongoing care for diagnosed conditions. Furthermore, 90% live in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), with the largest proportion living in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Despite recent successes towards the elimination of major infectious causes of blindness, without urgent action, our expanding and ageing populations will lead to 1.8 billion people living with untreated vision loss by 2050.
The economic consequence of vision impairment is huge. The Commission’s new analysis indicates that the economic cost of lost productivity due to blindness and moderate-to-severe vision impairment was US$411 billion in 2020, with east Asia (US$90 billion) and south Asia (US$70 billion) bearing the largest part of this financial loss.
There are however existing, highly cost-effective treatments for most eye health conditions. In fact, over 90% of those living with vision loss could be treated either with cataract surgery or by simply receiving glasses. Both interventions are shown in the report to be highly cost-effective in many settings, particularly in LMICs.
Enhancing eye health is essential to achieving many of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, according to new analysis done by the Commission. Good vision contributes to improvements in gender equality, educational performance, work productivity, household income, employment prospects and economic productivity.
Increasing investment in eye health can also help to reduce the deep inequalities in access to treatment. This would help women, rural populations, minority groups and people living with disabilities, who are all more likely to experience impaired eye health.
Eye health needs to be included in the planning, resourcing, and delivery of wider health care and the existing eye health workforce must be expanded to meet population needs. Harnessing new technology can help to reach disadvantaged groups and accelerate diagnosis and treatment.
Urgent investment is needed to build on the strong foundation laid by VISION 2020. Through governments recognising the impact of eye health, and prioritising it in their planning and policy-making, we can look forward to a future with increased quality of life and economic productivity for individuals and nations worldwide.
For more information on the report and resources please visit www.globaleyehealthcommission.org
Image on top: Tea leaf picking © Sarah Day Photography