Avoidable blindness – A growing burden

Up-to-date global and regional estimates of vision loss have recently been published in the Lancet Global Health by the Vision Loss Expert Group (VLEG).

The research reviewed population-based surveys of eye disease from 1980 to 2018 and compared them to the World Health Assembly Global Action Plan (WHA GAP) target of a 25% global reduction from 2010 to 2019 in avoidable vision impairment. The review found that the overall number of people who are blind or vision impaired has increased, indicating that the WHA targets have not been reached.

The studies found an estimated 1.1 billion people currently living with vision loss, with women bearing the greatest burden (55%). With an ageing and growing population, the number of people living with vision loss is expected to increase by 55% by 2050, impacting 1.7 billion people.

Cataract was found to be the leading cause of blindness, accounting for 15 million people or 45% of global blindness. While uncorrected refractive error was the leading cause of moderate and severe vision impairment, impacting 86 million people across the globe.

Diabetic retinopathy was the only cause of vision loss that showed a global increase in age standardised prevalence. With a projected 600 million people living with diabetes by 2040, the number of people with diabetic retinopathy and resulting vision impairment is expected to rise.

Of concern is the increasing burden of blindness and vision impairment in neighbouring countries, with Southeast Asia home to some of the largest number of people with blindness and moderate and severe vision impairment.

It is disappointed that eye care efforts are not keeping pace with population needs. With a growing and ageing population this burden will only increase. To address this we need a concerted effort by governments and policy makers to make global vision impairment an urgent public health priority and ensure everyone has access to eye care services.

Causes of blindness and vision impairment in 2020 and trends over 30 years, and prevalence of avoidable blindness in relation to VISION 2020: the Right to Sight: an analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 

Trends in prevalence of blindness and distance and near vision impairment over 30 years: an analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study