With World Sight Day coming on October 12, we have an opportunity to shed light on the profound impact of eye disease and to call urgently for a worldwide focus on the essential need for resources, equity and innovation in eye health.
Eye diseases touch lives everywhere, from minor irritations to grave conditions that can culminate in blindness. Vision impairment is the third leading cause of disability around the world, with at least 2.2 billion people grapple with a near or distance vision impairment. What’s more unsettling is that these impairments were preventable or treatable for an estimated 1 billion of those individuals. It can be hard to fathom numbers these large, so to put it another way: more than one in four of our neighbors around globe are facing vision challenges on a daily basis.
It’s estimated that 90% of individuals with preventable or treatable vision impairment live in lower- or middle-income countries. All of this is compounded by barriers to accessing the limited treatment options currently available. These inequities result in women and people of color bearing a greater burden of visual impairment and blindness. Vision loss impacts their economic opportunity as well, causing $410.7 billion in lost productivity each year.
To mitigate these equity gaps, national health plans and governments could further explore community-level interventions. For example, an analysis of interventions to improve gender equity eye care in low-middle income countries found that interventions, such as training rural volunteers to identify, educate and assist those with treatable eye care needs, could empower individuals to “circumvent or challenge socioeconomic barriers to accessing care.”
The eye health sector could also increase support for prevention strategies and programs to reduce these care gaps, such as IAPB partner, Operation Eyesight, which trains local health workers and establishes local vision centers to support lasting and sustainable vision care infrastructure. Reducing the associated costs of vision care could also improve access to that care. For example, a U.S. survey found that while women were more likely than men to have gone to an eye care professional, they were less likely to afford eyeglasses.
At Ocular Therapeutix, we are committed to improving the quality of patients’ lives and the standard of care while also addressing the equity issues within eye care. With an aging global population, the burden of eye disease is shifting from acute to chronic conditions that are potentially treatable. We hope to preserve vision and meet unmet patient need with development of our novel, sustained release solutions that could transform the treatment landscape and increase access to needed therapies— particularly in low- and middle-income countries, where many patients have little or no access to consistent medical care.
As a global community, our strategies to combat vision challenges must be anchored in equity and innovation. First, cost-effective vision-restoring interventions, like cataract surgery and eyeglasses, have incredible potential to address gender parity gaps and improve equity and economic opportunity. However, we also need to prioritize funding for new, pioneering therapies and advocate for groundbreaking, patient-focused solutions that improve access and reduce patient burden. Technological advancements, especially in telemedicine, should be harnessed to broaden the reach of quality eye care services. Moreover, we should make society more inclusive for the visually impaired and look at how we can redesign things from public infrastructures to digital landscapes.
This World Sight Day, we must remember the human stories behind these incredible statistics. We should strive to ensure that every person, regardless of where they live—or their socioeconomic status—can access the eye care they require.