The Global Coalition on Aging (GCOA) launched the first-ever International Vision Health Scorecard, an evaluation of how 15 countries are prioritizing eye health and vision care through their policies and across health systems. It aims to be a tool to increase awareness and encourage public policy advancements for better vision health as the global population rapidly ages and is faced with widespread visual impairment and vision loss. The Scorecard also calls on healthcare experts and patients, caregivers and government decision makers alike to recognize this growing need, which has been highlighted and exacerbated during COVID-19 pandemic.
Approximately 1.1 billion people live with vision loss globally, 73% of whom are age 50 or older. The health impact and economic and societal costs are staggering. While vision loss does increase in prevalence with age, it is not a “normal part of aging.” In fact, 90% of vision loss is avoidable with proper detection and treatment.
“Vision health is a vital component of overall healthy aging, contributing to one’s functional ability, independence and engagement across society,” said Michael W. Hodin, PhD, CEO of GCOA. “Poor vision health can threaten quality of life, and as we age, increases chances of falls, depression and social isolation. The new GCOA Scorecard calls out the imperative of eye health and aging experts to come together to elevate vision health across the life course on the global and country-level public health agendas.”
The Scorecard represents a snapshot in time and is intended to serve as a benchmark against which progress can be measured. It assesses countries across six categories: national commitment and investment, research and innovation, health system preparedness, access, prevention, and societal support. The Scorecard also calls out country-specific best practices that are showing promise and could be modeled around the world.
The countries evaluated are Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. While all countries must take action to leverage vision health for healthier aging and more sustainable economies, especially highlighted during this year’s launch of the Decade of Healthy Ageing, of those evaluated in the Scorecard, the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States can be seen as examples, scoring highest in the evaluation.
“The International Vision Health Scorecard comes amidst the greatest public health crisis of our lifetime – the COVID-19 pandemic – a time when older people have been disproportionately impacted,” said Baroness Sally Greengross, Member of the House of Lords and founder and Chief Executive of the International Longevity Centre – UK. “During this time, far too many chronic conditions have gone unaddressed and far too many screenings and preventive measures have been neglected; vision health has certainly suffered. Now more than ever, policymakers should recognize the importance of our vision in the pursuit of more active and productive lives and therefore its contributions to sustainable economic growth.”
Critical areas for action identified in the Scorecard, regardless of geography or economic status, include:
- Integrate and embed eye care deeply into health systems to ensure that primary care physicians, specialists, nurses and elder caregivers have the skills necessary to detect eye conditions to speed time to treatment and preserve vision.
- Enhance research into vision health and increase the use of technology to better understand the social and economic costs of vision loss.
- Deliver patient-centered care and ensure that patients can access to the most effective treatments that protect sight and improve patient experiences and outcomes.
- Unify the vision health community and increase collaboration toward key policy goals.
- Seize the momentum of global health initiatives, including the World report on vision and The Decade of Healthy Ageing to ensure that increased activity and productivity among older adults by preventing avoidable vision loss.
The Scorecard assigns scores to each of the 15 countries across the six categories based on a set of key indicators. The analysis includes key findings and calls to actions that all governments should consider as they adapt their healthcare policies to meet the needs of their aging societies.
“Innovative treatments and technologies – from more effective and less invasive pharmacologic interventions to the use of screening diagnostics, monitoring devices and artificial intelligence – are on the forefront of bringing better eye care to patients, especially older people,” said James Tsai, MD, President of New York Eye & Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai and Professor of Ophthalmology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in the US. “There is so much innovation in medicines and technologies, but we need innovation in payment structures, policy engagement, and health systems change to ensure optimal eye health matched with our longevity.”
The Scorecard comes alongside other recent global initiatives focused on advancing vision health and healthy aging, including the World Health Organization’s (WHO) World report on vision, establishment of The Lancet Global Health Commission on Global Eye Health, new prevalence data in IAPB’s Vision Atlas, and the WHO’s Decade of Healthy Ageing, itself linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
“Momentum for improved vision health is growing,” said Peter Holland, CEO of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB). “At this moment when COVID-19 has called out ageism in our society and highlighted the need for healthier aging, the eye health community and healthy aging advocates need to work together to ensure that no one is left behind. This Scorecard supports a number of global initiatives adopted over the last year, including the Decade of Healthy Aging and the World Report on Vision, in calling for a greater prioritization of vision and aging.”
The insights uncovered in the International Vision Health Scorecard were the result of hundreds of hours of data collection and evaluation of existing research gathered from global authorities including IAPB, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the WHO, as well as reports from national governments, non-profits, and academia. The findings were then supplemented and validated by insights from interviews and surveys with global key opinion leaders and subject matter experts (including scientists, advocates, researchers, clinicians, business leaders, and persons facing vision loss and blindness). The Scorecard was also reviewed by a pre-eminent and global third-party Advisory Council, the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) and the International Federation on Ageing (IFA).
Featured during today’s launch of the Scorecard are:
- Judith Abbott, CEO, Vision 2020 Australia
- Dr. BGK Ajayi, Former President, Ophthalmological Society of Nigeria
- Jane Barratt, Secretary General, International Federation on Ageing
- Prof. Dr. Rubens Belfort, Jr., CEO, IPEPO instituto da visão; Professor, Ophthalmology at Escola Paulista de Medicina, UNIFESP
- Michael W. Hodin, CEO, Global Coalition on Aging
- Peter Holland, CEO, International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness
- Prof. Bonnie Swenor, Director, Johns Hopkins Disability Health Research Center
To read the Scorecard, click here.