A New report from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that at least 2.2 billion people have vision impairment or blindness, of which over 1 billion cases could have been prevented or have yet to be addressed.
More than one 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 WHO.
"Today we can say there is at least two billion people around the world with vision impairment. From these 2.2 billion people, at least 1 billion are living with a vision impairment that could have been prevented, or is still to be addressed. Something needs to be done," said Alarcos Cieza, Coordinator Blindness, Deafness and Disabilities, at WHO.
The report, launched ahead of World Sight Day on 10 October, found that ageing populations, changing lifestyles and limited access to eye care, particularly in low and middle-income countries, are among the main drivers of the rising numbers of people living with vision impairment.
In Africa, major eye conditions include cataracts, uncorrected refractive errors, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, corneal opacities, diabetic retinopathy, trachoma and onchocerciasis.
"To address the need for these one billion people that today do not have access to simple glasses or cataract operations, the cost to address this would be US$14 billion," said Cieza.
According to WHO, 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, the report states.
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.
Approximately 26.3 million people in the African Region have a form of visual impairment. Of these, 20.4 million have low vision and 5.9 million are estimated to be blind.
It is estimated that 15.3% of the world's blind population reside in Africa.
Evidence indicates that the magnitude of avoidable blindness caused by communicable diseases like trachoma and onchocerciasis (river blindness) and ophthalmological complications in measles is decreasing, whereas non communicable age-related eye conditions like cataract, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy are increasing.
"One of the actions that we require and promote in the report is eye care services need to be an integral part of the health sector," said Cieza.
Stronger integration of eye care is needed within national health services, including at primary health care level, to ensure that the eye care needs of more people are addressed, including through prevention, early detection, treatment and rehabilitation, the report found. (Reuters)