SYDNEY, Australia—Lost productivity resulting from vision impairment caused by uncorrected myopia cost the global economy an estimated $244 billion in 2015, according to a new study published in the scientific journal Ophthalmology. The research estimated that 538 million people had vision impairment resulting from uncorrected myopia, with the East Asia region, which includes China, bearing the greatest burden of productivity loss of around $150 billion. The South Asia and Southeast Asia regions also experienced significant productivity loss at over $30 billion each. This represents in excess of 1 percent of GDP in each of the three regions, the study found.

The authors said a one-off investment of around $20 billion would establish the services necessary to provide vision correction to all who need it, potentially leading to a significant annual saving in productivity.

“On current trends we expect there will be 2.6 billion people with myopia globally in 2020,” estimated co–author Tim Fricke of Brien Holden Vision Institute (BHVI).

BHVI noted that while the majority will have access to corrective lenses such as spectacles and contact lenses, enabling them to have good vision, current service capacity will leave well over half a billion people unable to access an eye examination and appropriate correction. This includes around 54 million people classified as having mild vision impairment, who, although not formally recognized as being vision impaired, still experience a loss of utility, albeit relatively small, which is accounted for in this study.

“The impact of vision impairment on lives can be substantial, including affecting employment, education and social interaction,” said Fricke, adding that the findings also serve to highlight "the potential value in funding the interventions needed to eliminate this unnecessary impairment.”

A combination of factors explains the substantial burden in East Asia said Professor Padmaja Sankaridurg, head of Myopia at Brien Holden Vision Institute. “The high-density urban living with a focus on near based activities has resulted in high prevalence and also in a large number of people with inadequate visual correction.”

Along with East Asia, other regions significantly impacted are South Asia and Southeast Asia, both estimated to suffer productivity loss of over $30 billion in 2015. The researchers concluded that people with myopia are “less likely to have adequate optical correction if they are older and live in a rural area of a less developed country, according to the study.

“Peak international eyecare and health agencies, governments and international NGOs are working collaboratively to build the sustainable eyecare systems that would address this need,” said Professor Sankaridurg. “This research demonstrates a need for funding to be either prioritized or sourced, to allow the successful implementation of these efforts.”

The researchers note that lost productivity resulting from myopia-related vision impairment represents only part of the overall economic burden of myopia. Direct costs such as expenses related to eye examinations, refractive corrections and managing pathological consequences of myopia such as MMD, and related opportunity costs, are not covered in their analysis.

The study was conducted by researchers from Brien Holden Vision Institute, University of New South Wales (Australia), African Vision Research Institute, University of KwaZulu Natal (South Africa) and Carey Business School at Johns Hopkins University (U.S.). It was supported with funding from Brien Holden Vision Institute and the Vision Impact Institute.