Uncorrected Refractive Error: A Mounting Challenge

A rapidly growing number of people are in need of adequate spectacles.
Uncorrected refractive error presents a mounting challenge. Photo: LIGHT FOR THE WORLD

Uncorrected refractive errors (URE) are the major cause of visual impairment and the second major cause of blindness worldwide. Correction of refractive errors with appropriate spectacles is among the most cost-effective interventions in eye health care. Yet insufficient access to screening facilities and spectacle dispensing services, especially in most sub-Saharan countries, has resulted in poor coverage suggesting that less 20% of people who require optical correction are actually receiving the needed services.

Prevalence and impact on global health

An estimated 153 million people are visually impaired due to URE, and a further 8 million are regarded as effectively blind. Additionally, 517 million people experience sight problems due to uncorrected presbyopia (aging-related  long-sightedness). About 90% of people with uncorrected refractive errors live in low and middle income countries. Consequences of URE for the livelihood of affected people can be severe, ranging from inability to complete school to being unable to make a living. Due to changes in lifestyle and demographics, levels of myopia are expected to rise sharply from 1.95 in 2010 to 4.76 billion in 2050. This means that, if nothing is done, up to 50% of the world's population will be short-sighted by 2050.

What we are doing about it

Over the last years, LIGHT FOR THE WORLD has implemented a comprehensive pilot initiative in Uganda, the National Intervention in Uncorrected Refractive Errors (NIURE). The programme resulted in a abundance of useful learnings for setting up a successful service provision, including school eye health, through government-run infrastructure. The essence of our learnings form part of a comprehensive learning document which we developed in collaboration with the International Council of Ophthalmology (ICO). As next steps, LIGHT FOR THE WORLD is exploring how to apply our learnings from the Ugandan programme to our African priority countries of Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, and Mozambique.

Tackling the issue through strategic partnerships

In order to keep up with the sharply rising demand for counter-measures to uncorrected refractive errors, LIGHT FOR THE WORLD has joined hands with Eyelliance and is actively supporting the Our Children's Vision campaign. Watch this space for updates on URE and our joint efforts to tackle the issue.