World Health Organization publishes its first ever global report on vision

The World Report on Vision, published today by the World Health Organization, highlights that while vision plays a central role in every aspect and stage of our lives, 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.  

The report, launched ahead of World Sight Day on 10 October, found that eye conditions are remarkably common and that those who live long enough will experience at least one eye condition during their lifetime. Ageing populations, changing lifestyles and limited access to eye care, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, are among the main drivers of the rapidly rising numbers of people living with vision impairment.

Yet the Report points out that a range of effective strategies are available to address the needs associated with eye conditions and vision impairment across the life course. These include health promotion, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation strategies, some of which are among the most feasible and cost-effective of all health care interventions to implement.

The five-year programmes of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, recently concluded, have successfully used many of the tried and tested strategies documented in the Report, supporting Governments to address causes of avoidable blindness in the Commonwealth.

Speaking about the publication of the report, Dr Astrid Bonfield CBE, Chief Executive of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, said:

“I welcome this important and timely report. It highlights not only the huge numbers of people across the world affected by vision impairment and blindness, but the stark reality that almost half of all cases could have been prevented or are yet to be addressed.  It is why the Trust chose as its objective to make a decisive contribution to ending avoidable blindness.

Through its successful five-year programmes across the Commonwealth to support the elimination of blinding trachoma, to prevent blindness from diabetes, to preserve the sight of premature babies, and to increase capacity to deliver quality eye care, it has done just that.  The Trust’s mission is ending, but the work is not: Commonwealth Heads of Government have committed themselves to take action towards access to quality eye care for all. The World Report on Vision can guide these efforts”.

The World Report on Vision highlights that a shortage of trained human resources is one of the greatest challenges to increasing the availability of eye care services and reducing the prevalence of vision impairment and blindness that could have been prevented or has yet to be addressed. The Commonwealth Eye Health Consortium, an international network of leading training institutions created by the Trust and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 2014, is working to strengthen eye health systems across the Commonwealth by:

  • building human capacity through clinical fellowships and master’s courses;
  • increasing global understanding of avoidable blindness and finding ways to tackle it through research and the creation of global networks; and
  • developing and deploying new affordable and accessible technology for eye care – most notably the smartphone vision-testing tool Peek.

Since 2014, more than 23,000 people from 188 countries have taken the Consortium’s online courses in public health care; 140 eye health professionals from 19 countries have completed training placements in centres of excellence and hospitals across India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa and the UK; and the number of ophthalmic clinicians in sub-Saharan Africa with research training at PhD level has doubled, helping to create significant new evidence to improve eye care.

Dr Alarcos Cieza, who heads WHO’s work to address blindness and vision impairment, says:

 “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, eye care services, including rehabilitation, must be provided closer to communities for people to achieve their maximum potential.”

 The report recommends five important actions to help bring vision to everyone, everywhere:

  • Make eye care an integral part of universal health coverage.
  • Implement integrated people-centred eye care in health systems.
  • Promote high-quality implementation and health systems research complementing existing evidence for effective eye care interventions.
  • Monitor trends and evaluate progress towards implementing integrated people-centred eye care.
  • Raise awareness and engage and empower people and communities about eye care needs.

Click here for further information about the report.