Citing Lancet Study, Lighthouse Guild Calls for Stronger Effort to Deal with Global Increase in Blindness and Vision Impairment

Drawing Attention to Preventable Conditions to Mark World Sight Day

New York (Oct. 12, 2017) – Lighthouse Guild is calling for a stronger effort to reverse the worldwide increase in blindness and vision impairment in response to a new study that analyzed the leading causes of blindness in 98 countries. The call-to-action comes on World Sight Day, a day to call special attention to eye care issues around the globe.
The Lancet study, titled “Global causes of blindness and distance vision impairment 1990–2020: a systematic review and meta-analysis,” was developed by the Vision Loss Expert Group, published by and sponsored by the Brien Holden Vision Institute.

“As noted in the study, the number of people affected by common causes of blindness and vision impairment has increased substantially as the population grows and ages,” says Alan R. Morse, JD, PhD, President and CEO of Lighthouse Guild. “Most of these causes, however, are preventable. This study calls for expanding the provision of eye care to cope with avoidable vision loss. We agree and World Sight Day is an appropriate time to underscore that more needs to be done to reduce vision loss.”

The increase in vision problems, which tend to affect adults 50 years and older, includes cataracts, reversible with surgery, and refractive error (reversible with eyeglasses), as well as other treatable conditions as glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.

Women and men and aging
The study also clearly shows that cataract, uncorrected refractive error and diabetic retinopathy were more common causes of blindness and vision impairment in women. 

Although the age-specific prevalence of vision loss globally has declined over time, the proportion of prevalent blindness attributable to cataract in adults aged 50 years and older has remained almost unchanged, according to the study. 

“Projections to 2020, an important milestone for the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Action Plan, lead us to conclude that the prevalence of avoidable vision impairment is not reducing fast enough to keep pace with this demographic change in the world’s population, so more attention to this problem is needed than has been given to it so far,” the study concludes. The Global Eye Health Action Plan aims to reduce avoidable visual impairment as a global public health problem and to secure access to rehabilitation services for the visually impaired. 

Globally the major causes of visual impairment are uncorrected refractive error (myopia, hyperopia or astigmatism), unoperated cataract and glaucoma.  Approximately 90% of visually impaired people live in developing countries and low-income settings. 

“Urgent action is needed to address this largely preventable global problem and provide adequate eye care services,” says Dr. Morse. “The most recent WHO estimates indicate that 80% of all causes of visual impairment are preventable or curable.”  In one example, he explains, almost half of all students in Africa's schools for the blind do not need to be there, they merely need a pair of spectacles.” Dr. Morse notes that students in the United States also face challenges accessing eye exams, receiving eyeglasses and having access to rehabilitation services.  

“We must do better to provide access to eye care, while continuing to strengthen and expand vision research to improve treatments and discover cures,” Dr. Morse says.

About Brien Holden Vision Institute
For more than 30 years Brien Holden Vision Institute  has focused on creating superior modes of vision correction for the most common eye conditions – refractive errors. Myopia, hyperopia and astigmatism are refractive errors affecting distance vision and presbyopia affects near vision. Combined, these conditions impair the vision of billions of people worldwide.

About Vision Loss Expert Group
The Vision Loss Expert Group  is an international group of mainly ophthalmologists and optometrists with experience in ophthalmic epidemiology. While external to the World Health Organization, the group was convened to assist the Global Burden of Disease study with the goal of providing global technical leadership in the development and improvement of epidemiological estimates for blindness and vision impairment.

About Lighthouse Guild
Lighthouse Guild, based in New York, is the leading not-for-profit healthcare organization dedicated to addressing and preventing vision loss through coordinated vision and health services. With Lighthouse Guild, people who are at risk for, or affected by, vision loss have access to all the resources necessary to lead full, independent and productive lives. For more information, visit