New global eye health stats should “shock and motivate”

Today the International Agency for Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) launches the ‘Vision Atlas’. It gives the newest data on the enormous numbers of people impacted by sight loss around the world.
A young boy with an eye patch over his left eye is smiling into the camera. He wears a read sweater.

“Light for the World welcomes this powerful data tool from IAPB, which will reenergize the global fight for eye health rights. Every person in the world deserves eye health support – no matter where they live or how much they earn,” says Geoffrey Wabulembo, our Director for Eye Health, based in Uganda. 

The Vision Atlas brings together the most up-to-date estimates on the causes, magnitude and projections of vision loss from the Vision Loss Expert Group, the WHO World Report on Vision, Country-level monitoring data and The Lancet Global Health Commission on Global Eye Health.

Enormous loss

Global vision loss has an enormous impact on people’s lives and the economy. 

The latest data shows 1.1 billion people experience vision impairment primarily because they do not have access to eye care services. Indeed, unaddressed poor vision results in a global economic productivity loss of $411 billion per annum.

“These numbers represent stories of people – of grandmas, fishermen, school girls, teachers. That’s what you’ve got to imagine when you think about the enormous issue we’re talking about,” says Geoffrey Wabulembo.

Read the story of Maure here.

Those who need it most

The Atlas confirms the need for eye care is greatest among groups who are already marginalised, including across Sub-Saharan Africa where we work.

More than 90% of people with vision loss live in low- and middle-income countries. Fifty-five percent are women and girls.

Indeed, vision loss often leads to other forms of injustice: children with a vision impairment are up to 5 times less likely to be in formal education and often achieve poorer outcomes.

“Our main focus must be to reach the unreached — women, children, rural populations, and people with disabilities — who have little or no access to comprehensive and affordable eye care. That’s where our focus should be,” says Geoffrey Wabulembo.  

“Later this year Light for the World will be launching a 10-year child eye health programme, to reach the youngest and most vulnerable of society.”

There are answers

Despite the daunting scale of the issue, the solutions are relatively simple.

Eye tests, glasses and cataract operations could alleviate the vast majority of vision loss.

To achieve this, the significant gap in eye health professionals in poorer countries must be bridged.

“The in-country eye health workforce is crucial. So are community health workers and school teachers.  Each year Light for the World trains thousands of amazing individuals, who go on to save the sight of tens of thousands more. We need to keep going and working in partnership with others on this key part of the strategy to end preventable sight loss.”

Looking to the future

Worryingly, the Atlas predicts vision loss will rise to 1.7 billion people by 2050 without significant investment.

However, the hope is that working together, the investment can be found and the tide can still be turned.

“The Vision Atlas is an invaluable tool for all of us working in the eye health sector. The facts should both shock and motivate, governments, eye health practitioners, businesses and individuals to do more. In short, the Atlas is proof of the power in partnerships and data. We hope it brings new energy and supporters to our collective, rallying cry to do everything in our power to improve access to eye health around the world, before it’s too late.”