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Eye Health is Essential to Achieving UN SDGs

IAPB launched its updated Vision Atlas at a meeting of the United Nations Friends of Vision Group (watch the event video).
Published: 24.02.2021
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On the 24th February, International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) will officially launch its Vision Atlas at a meeting of the United Nations Friends of Vision Group organised by the UN Ambassadors from Antigua & Barbuda, Bangladesh and Ireland and addressed by H.E. Volkan Bozkir, President of the UN General Assembly. [Edit: You can now watch a recording of this live event above]

The Vision Atlas contains important new estimates on the causes, magnitude and projections of vision loss from The Vision Loss Expert Group (VLEG), as well as key evidence from the recently launched The Lancet Global Health Commission on Global Eye Health.

The key messages from the Vision Atlas are:

  • 1.1 billion people experience vision loss primarily because they do not have access to eye care services.
  • The number of people with vision loss will rise from 1.1 billion to 1.7 billion people by 2050, mainly due to population growth and population ageing.
  • Over 90% of vision loss is could have been prevented.
  • The leading causes of vision loss include:
    • Uncorrected refractive error, which is responsible for distance vision loss in 161 million people and near vision loss in an additional 510 million people.
    • Unoperated cataracts, responsible for vision loss in 100 million people.
    • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy accounting for 8.1 million, 7.8 million and 4.4 million people with vision loss respectively.
    • 56m have other causes of vision loss
  • Unaddressed poor vision results in a global economic productivity loss of $411 billion per annum.
  • Poor eye health leads to an increased risk (up to 2.6 times) of mortality.
  • Children with a vision impairment are up to 5 times less likely to be in formal education and often achieve poorer outcomes.

Eye care needs are expected to increase substantially; projections estimate half of the global population (4.8 billion) will need access to regular eye care services to prevent and treat sight loss by 2050.

IAPB’s Vision Atlas is a wealth of information relevant to businesses, eye hospitals, research centres, universities, policy makers and NGOs. Given that so much of vision loss is a consequence of inequity and lack of access for the most disadvantaged members of our global community, the Vision Atlas is an important resource for those responsible for achieving universal health coverage and the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. The 2021 launch provides a rich mix of data, narratives and interactive presentation tools that make it easy to understand and present complex data sets accessibly to our broad audiences.

As well as Ambassador Walton Webson of Antigua and Barbuda, Ambassador Rabab Fatima of Bangladesh and Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason of Ireland the meeting will hear from senior UN figures including Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, Stewart Simonson Assistant-Director General, WHO and Beate Andrees, Special Representative to the UN and Director of the International.

Commenting on the launch of the Vison Atlas, IAPB Chief Executive Officer, Peter Holland said “IAPB is pleased to launch our Vision Atlas at a special meeting of the United Nations Friends of Vision Group. The new data contained in the Vision Atlas is an important tool for the sector both for advocacy, planning and academic purposes.

Action on vision loss is essential if the world is to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It is our aim with the Vision Atlas that we can show in an accessible way the impact that good quality eye care can have on people’s lives. For example, enabling children to benefit from education, helping working adults keep their jobs and ensuring older people can participate in their families and communities.

Professor Rupert Bourne of Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge and coordinator of the Vision Loss Expert Group said “It is encouraging that age-adjusted prevalence of blindness has reduced over the past three decades, yet due to population growth, progress is not keeping pace with needs. We face enormous challenges in avoiding vision impairment as the global population grows and ages. One of the issues we faced when compiling this data is that for many countries, including those from high income regions, there is a lack of accurate information due to the fact the population has not been officially surveyed for eye disease and its consequences. High quality, current data on eye health is needed in order to plan services effectively to improve outcomes. On behalf of VLEG, we are delighted that this information on prevalence and burden of disease can reach any internet user in order to empower them and make the data ‘actionable’.

In welcoming the launch of the new data, Charles Holmes, Associate Vice President, Global Eye Care, Allergan, an AbbVie Company, said, “We know that the need for eye care is set to increase dramatically in the coming decades,3 due in part to an ageing population and associated eye diseases. This will pose a considerable challenge to global health systems. What the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness’s Vision Atlas does is provide a wealth of incredibly rich evidence and data that will guide the vital work of all those striving to improve the lives of people at risk of and living with eye disease.

Jan Voss, VP & Head of Ophthalmology at Bayer, said: “Data on the global magnitude and projections of vision loss is crucial for improving understanding of eye health needs, especially around the access of eyecare services. This updated IAPB Vision Atlas is a powerful and accessible tool, and it will greatly support our collective efforts to reduce the number of people impacted by visual impairment around the world.

Dr. M. Babar Qureshi, Director Inclusive Eye Health and Neglected Tropical Diseases CBM said “In order to truly understand the challenges involved in addressing global eye care it is crucial that we collect data that can identify need and assess outcomes. The Vision Atlas provides an effective, user-friendly method of gaining access to information to help everyone in the sector plan, monitor, evaluate and implement eye care services so that we can continue to work towards our shared goal of ensuring people with visual impairment and avoidable blindness are not left behind.

Suzanne S Gilbert, Senior Director, Research & Strategic Opportunities at Seva Foundation said “The IAPB Vision Atlas marks a breakthrough in making clear, current, comprehensive eye care information available at the national and regional level. It is a rich resource for eye care practitioners, planners, advocates, and policy makers. The Atlas’ interactive structure enables rapid access to data, cases, and other information so vital in our connected world. The greatest success of the Atlas will be its stimulating more members of the global eye health community to generate data which can be shared so as to leapfrog our efforts.

Dominic Haslam, Sightsavers’ Deputy CEO, said “There are far too many people across the world who have visual impairments that could have been prevented – and most can’t access or afford essential eye care services like a pair of glasses to help them drive, read or work. Eye health is simple and cost effective but makes a real difference to people’s lives, and as we build back health services post-COVID we need to make sure it is included.”

The Fred Hollows Foundation, CEO, Ian Wishart said, “Blindness and vision loss is a significant global problem which will continue to get worse unless we work together to ensure it is a priority. The Vision Atlas gives us all of the evidence and data to enable governments to see the benefit of investing in eye health to ensure their communities are productive and reach their full potential. We can not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals unless we address access to eye health care and in particular the gender inequities that exist.