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One billion people have preventable or unaddressed vision loss

A report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) to coincide with World Sight Day has presented a detailed analysis of the world’s visual issues.

The WHO’s World Report on Vision, the first document of its kind created by the organisation, has identified ageing populations, changing lifestyles and limited access to eyecare as the main drivers behind the rising number of people living with vision impairments.

According to the report’s findings at least 2.2 billion people worldwide have a vision impairment of some kind, but at least one billion of them suffer a condition that either could have been prevented or is yet to be addressed. Examples of the most common conditions include cataracts, glaucoma, trachoma and refractive errors.

The report also concluded that visual impairments are not evenly distributed worldwide, with the vast majority of those with preventable or addressable eye conditions located in South Asia, South East Asia, East Asia and Oceania. Additionally, the burden of poor vision is often far greater in rural areas and among those with low incomes, women, older people, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities and indigenous populations.

The main causes of rising rates were attributed to increased time spent indoors leading to greater rates of myopia, type 2 diabetes increasing cases of diabetic retinopathy and poorly integrated eyecare services leading to reduced access to the necessary level of care.

However, addressing these issues is not an insurmountable challenge. The costs of the coverage gap for unaddressed refractive errors and cataract were estimated by the WHO as US$7.4 billion (AU$10.9 b) and US$6.9 billion (AU$10.2 b) respectively.

“Eye conditions and vision impairment are widespread, and far too often they still go untreated,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said.

“People who need eyecare must be able to receive quality interventions without suffering financial hardship. Including eyecare in national health plans and essential packages of care is an important part of every country’s journey towards universal health coverage.”

By addressing these issues, the WHO hopes a significant change can be made among societies where visual impairments are epidemic.

“Millions of people have severe vision impairment and are not able to participate in society to their fullest because they can’t access rehabilitation services,” Dr Alarcos Cieza, head of WHO’s work to address blindness and vision impairment, said.

“In a world built on the ability to see, eyecare services, including rehabilitation, must be provided closer to communities for people to achieve their maximum potential.”