The 2021 IAPB Vision Atlas arrives at a pivotal moment for global society. As the COVID-19 pandemic moves into its second year and vaccines begin to roll out, policymakers and all of us must look ahead and make smart investments that will not only improve the lives and health of older adults, but also control long-term costs.
The intersection of vision health and population aging opens a key opportunity to achieve these goals, especially as the Decade of Healthy Ageing—endorsed by the UN and WHO—launches globally.
For too long, vision health has flown under the radar for policymakers, and this has been particularly devastating for older adults as many regard vision deterioration and even vision loss to be an accepted part of aging. But, as evidenced by IAPB’s Vision Atlas, the WHO’s World report on vision, and outlined in the International Vision Health Scorecard—now is the time for policy action on vision health.
How vision health shapes our aging world
The Global Coalition on Aging created the International Vision Health Scorecard to show the urgent need for action on vision health, both to ensure the vitality and activity of an aging global population, but also to serve as a key metric for healthier vision across the life course.
By 2050, 22% of the world’s population will be 60 years or older, with over 700 million people expected to experience blindness or moderate to severe visual impairment. This often leads to a cascade of severe impacts for older adults, such as falls, depression, and loss of independence, which can be life-changing for individuals and families and add costs at the community and national public policy levels.
Tragically, the vast majority of these cases are preventable or treatable, yet there is still a lack of policy focus and investment. Every day that ageist stereotypes persist, lives and healthy aging are at risk and health systems pay needless costs.
The International Vision Health Scorecard: A policy call-to-action
To better understand this challenge, the Vision Health Scorecard analyzes the state of vision health policy in 15 countries across six categories. We have several key findings:
- Vision health requires greater focus and investment. Sadly, vision health remains largely overlooked. Most countries score below a 7 on the Scorecard’s 10-point scale, with low funding, scarce data, and no national strategy. And if many of the advanced economies we evaluated are falling short, there is likely an even greater need in low- and middle-income countries.
- National best practices provide a model for the path forward. While there is a need for policy action overall, leading countries provide best practices that can be scaled globally. Models like Australia’s national strategies and the U.K.’s system-wide ophthalmology assessment illustrate how policymakers can focus on vision health—and see benefits when they do so.
- We call on countries to prioritize vision health. Policy action is essential to address the immense economic and social toll of vision loss, especially given the scale of population aging. Countries must take action by developing national strategies, gathering system-wide data, and targeting investments to meet needs.
The time is now: Building on recent policy momentum
IAPBs Vision Atlas elevates focus on this critical issue. We are grateful to partner with IAPB to make 2021 the turning point for vision health, imagined by the Decade of Healthy Ageing and the World vision report.
Global momentum is growing. Leaders like the World Health Organization, The Lancet Global Health Commission on Global Eye Health, and the Vision Loss Expert Group have all recently deepened their vision health work. This work advances the WHO’s Decade of Healthy Ageing by helping to ensure that more people are living healthier, longer, and more active lives.
We know vision health interventions work—helping people preserve sight and society avoid exploding cost trajectories. By prioritizing and investing here, policymakers can cost-effectively improve the lives of millions of older adults and reduce the strain on families, health systems, and societies. The result will be a healthier world with a fully engaged older generation.
Image: An old woman from a village by Jamshyd Masud