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Improving Eye Health and Advancing the SDGs

Published: 01.03.2022
Matthew Burton Director of the International Centre for Eye Health and Professor of Global Eye Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
the International Centre for Eye Health

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), launched in 2015 by the United Nations, were announced as a “plan of action for people, planet and prosperity”. Within SDG3 “Good Health and Wellbeing” one would expect that eye health (the state in which vision, ocular health, and functional ability is maximised) would be a consideration. However it has become increasingly apparent that eye health affects much more than just people’s individual health – it has far-reaching consequences across communities and economies worldwide.

A new study, published today in Lancet Planetary Health shows that eye health has direct and indirect interactions with many of the SDGs, making it a key enabler to achieving sustainable development globally.

The research, carried out as part of the Lancet Global Health Commission on Global Eye Health and led by the International Centre for Eye Health, assessed 226 studies that reported the relationship between an eye health service and outcomes or pathways related to the SDGs. These services included cataract surgery, free cataract screening, provision of spectacles, trichiasis surgery, rehabilitation services, and rural community eye health volunteers.

We found multiple direct connections between eye health services and one or more of seven SDGs, including:

  • Improved eye health reduces poverty (SDG 1) and improves productivity (SDG 8)

Several studies have shown increases in productivity, household expenditure and household income following access to eye health interventions. For example, in the Philippines, household per capita expenditure increased by 88% over one year among people who underwent cataract surgery.

  • Improved eye health advances general health and well-being (SDG 3)

Reviews complementary to this study undertaken for the Commission have shown associations between vision impairment and increased risk of mortality, falls, dementia, mental health challenges, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and cancer.

  • Improved eye health advances educational outcomes (SDG 4)

Good vision is associated with improved educational outcomes. The provision of spectacles can improve academic test scores, with one study in China showing that the provision of spectacles reduced the odds of failing a class by 44%.

  • Improved eye health advances equality (SDGs 5 & 10)

Interventions such as training rural community eye health volunteers and providing cataract surgery can reduce gender inequality in relation to attendance and treatment. Similarly, income equality has been shown to be improved through cataract surgery.

  • Improved eye health reduces road traffic accidents (SDG 11)

 Cataract has been found to increase the odds of being involved in a collision by 2.5x. Studies have shown that cataract surgery can reduce driving-related difficulties and motor vehicle crashes.

Overall, 27 studies reported that eye health services had a positive effect on advancing one or more SDG targets, with indirect effects proposed for all further goals. Cataract surgery and spectacles were the interventions with the largest number of studies reporting beneficial effects on an SDG.

Currently, eye health does not feature within any of the many targets and indicators of SDG monitoring. This research, which is one of only two studies looking at the connections between improvements in a specific area of health and the SDGs,  is part of a growing body of evidence that eye health policies should be embedded across education, the workplace and social services. Interventions, such as improved access to glasses and cataract surgery, need to be prioritised and receive the financial support that a challenge of this scale deserves.

Above the obvious benefits to an individual person’s life through addressing avoidable vision loss, improving eye health can help to improve the lives of that person’s family, community and nation, and is therefore an integral part of any commitment to global development.