World Health Organization Launches First World Report on Vision

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GENEVA—More than 1 billion people worldwide are living with vision impairment because they do not get the care they need for conditions like short and far sightedness, glaucoma and cataract, according to the first World Report on Vision issued by the World Health Organization. The report, launched ahead of World Sight Day (Oct. 10), found that ageing populations, changing lifestyles and limited access to eyecare, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, are among the main drivers of the rising numbers of people living with vision impairment.

“Eye conditions and vision impairment are widespread, and far too often they still go untreated,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general. “People who need eyecare must be able to receive quality interventions without suffering financial hardship. Including eyecare in national health plans and essential packages of care is an important part of every country’s journey toward universal health coverage.”

Dr Tedros added, “It is unacceptable that 65 million people are blind or have impaired sight when their vision could have been corrected overnight with a cataract operation, or that over 800 million people struggle in everyday activities because they lack access to a pair of glasses.”

Globally, at least 2.2 billion people have a vision impairment or blindness, of whom at least 1 billion have a vision impairment that could have been prevented or has yet to be addressed.

Other main findings of the report include:

• The burden of eye conditions and vision impairment is not borne equally: it is often far greater in people living in rural areas, those with low incomes, women, older people, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities and indigenous populations.

• The unmet need of distance vision impairment in low- and middle-income regions is estimated to be four times higher than in high-income regions.

• Low- and middle-income regions of Western and Eastern sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have rates of blindness that are eight times higher than in all high-income countries. Rates of cataract and trachomatous trichiasis are higher among women, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

• $14.3 billion is needed to address the backlog of 1 billion people living with vision impairment or blindness due to short and farsightedness, and cataracts.

“Prevent Blindness applauds the efforts of the World Health Organization and its partners for dedicating resources and coordinating efforts to address vision issues that impact all people. And, our organization looks forward to continuing working with vision and public health leaders across the globe, and throughout the U.S. to expand on these efforts,” according to a statement from Prevent Blindness.

“It is the mission of Prevent Blindness to prevent blindness and preserve sight, and we do so by educating the American public about conditions related to vision and eye health; advocating for public policy that advances vision and eye health; promoting early detection as a key to the prevention of vision loss and blindness; supporting public health research to identify the scope of vision problems across the U.S.; and developing resources that meet patient and caregiver needs. We are honored to be a part of a vision community working to elevate the recommendations of the World Report on Vision,” the statement concluded.

James Chen, a Hong Kong based philanthropist who has dedicated his life to solving the world’s largest unmet disability—poor vision, commented on the report. “This landmark report highlights poor vision as a ticking time-bomb that impacts the education, work and quality of life of around a third of the world’s population, particularly women. Nonetheless, the simple solution of a pair of glasses has existed for over 700 years. The world must make 2020 a year of action—starting with the Commonwealth when it meets next June in Rwanda,” he said.


Last year, James got 52 countries at The Commonwealth Heads of Governments to pledge affordable eyecare for all, created the first UN working group on poor vision and completed research which found glasses had the largest productivity increase of any other health intervention. He is creating a tipping point in how poor vision is viewed on the global health agenda.

Eye conditions that can cause vision impairment and blindness—such as cataract, trachoma and refractive error—are the main focus of national prevention and other eye care strategies. But eye conditions that do not typically impair vision, including dry eye and conjunctivitis, must not be overlooked as they are among the main reasons for people to seek eye health care services in all countries, according to the report.

The combination of a growing and ageing population will significantly increase the total number of people with eye conditions and vision impairment, since prevalence increases with age.

Other main drivers of the most common eye conditions include:

• Myopia (near-sightedness): Increased time spent indoors and increased “near work” activities are leading to more people suffering from myopia. Increased outdoor time can reduce this risk.

• Diabetic retinopathy: increasing numbers of people are living with diabetes, particularly Type 2, which can impact vision if not detected and treated. Nearly all people with diabetes will have some form of retinopathy in their lifetimes. Routine eye checks and good diabetes control can protect people’s vision from this condition.

• Late detection: Due to weak or poorly integrated eyecare services, many people lack access to routine checks that can detect conditions and lead to the delivery of appropriate preventive care or treatment.
Stronger integration of eyecare is needed within national health services, including at the primary health care level, to ensure that the eyecare needs of more people are addressed, including through prevention, early detection, treatment and rehabilitation, the report found.

Dr. Alarcos Cieza, who heads WHO’s work to address blindness and vision impairment, said, “Millions of people have severe vision impairment and are not able to participate in society to their fullest because they can’t access rehabilitation services. In a world built on the ability to see, eyecare services, including rehabilitation, must be provided closer to communities for people to achieve their maximum potential.”

The report stated that all people living with blindness and severe vision impairment who cannot be treated are still able to lead independent lives if they access rehabilitation services. Options include optical magnifiers and reading use Braille, to smartphone wayfinders and orientation and mobility training with white canes.

On July 15, 2020, the Prevent Blindness 9th Annual Focus on Eye Health National Summit will serve as one of 40 global launch sites for the World Report on Vision, where key authors of the report and stakeholders in vision and population health will have the chance to explore methods to realize the report priorities. To learn more about the Focus on Eye Health National Summit, go to https://www.preventblindness.org/eyesummit.

Read the WHO World report on vision summary or the full report