Researchers Fear Vision Impairment Dooms Future Generation


The number of individuals suffering from vision impairment expected to rise to 895 million by 2050.

Matthew J. Burton, PhD

Matthew J. Burton, PhD

While it is correctable, there is some concerns over whether vision impairment and blindness become major problems in future decades.

The Lancet Global Health Commission, led by Matthew J. Burton, PhD, International Centre for Eye Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, estimated 596 million individuals in 2020 had distance vision impairment worldwide, 45 million of which were considered blind.

Current Problems

In addition, 510 million individuals had uncorrected near vision impairment due to not having reading glasses.

Approximately 90% of the people with vision problems live in low-income and middle-income countries, while more than 90% of people with vision impairment have a preventable or treatable cause with existing highly cost-effective treatments.

Growing Concern

The researchers estimate with a growing and aging population, as well as a more urbanized population, there could be 895 million individuals by 2050 with distance vision impairment, of which 61 million will be blind.

Overall, poor eye health and impaired vision has a negative impact on the quality of life of people and restricts equitable access to and achievement in education and the workforce.

“Vision loss has substantial financial implications for affected individuals, families, and communities,” the authors wrote. “Although high-quality data for global economic estimates are scarce, particularly for LMICs, conservative assessments based on the latest prevalence figures for 2020 suggest that annual global productivity loss from vision impairment is approximately $410.7 billion purchasing power parity.”

Impact of Vision Impairment

Outside of finances, there are a number of other ways vision impairment can impact the individual, including reduced mobility, impacted mental wellbeing, exacerbated risk of dementia, increased likelihood of falls and road traffic crashes, increased need for social care, and ultimately higher mortality rates.

There is also evidence-based research showing the potential for vision to advance Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by contributing toward poverty reduction, quality education, gender equality, among others.

The commission said vision lost comes from numerous causes that require promotional, preventive, treatment, and rehabilitative interventions,, with cataract, uncorrected refractive error, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy are responsible for most global vision impairment.

Hope for the Future

Researchers in the past have identified treatments aimed at reducing or eliminating blindness from all of the identified conditions.

“Lessons from the past three decades give hope that this challenge can be met. Between 1990 and 2020, the age-standardized global prevalence of blindness fell by 28.5%,” they said. “Since the 1990s, prevalence of major infectious causes of blindness—onchocerciasis and trachoma—have declined substantially.”

Ultimately, the researchers are confident the industry will be able to withstand some challenges in correcting and treating vision impairments moving forward.

“Hope remains that by 2030, the transmission of onchocerciasis will be interrupted, and trachoma will be eliminated as a public health problem in every country worldwide,” the authors wrote. “However, the ageing population has led to a higher crude prevalence of age-related causes of blindness, and thus an increased total number of people with blindness in some regions.”

The study, “The Lancet Global Health Commission on Global Eye Health: vision beyond 2020,” was published online in The Lancet Global Health.

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