The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently released its inaugural report on vision. And while that may sound refreshing and hopeful, the findings from the report, especially on visually impaired, is staggering.
The Blind Billions
According to WHO, at least 2.2 billion people globally suffer from permanent blindness or some form of vision impairment. What’s even more astounding is that, out of this total figure, over a billion of these cases could either have been prevented or are yet to be addressed. The report also identified short and long-sightedness, glaucoma and cataract as the primary vision-impairing conditions that can be prevented, making them the main focus of national prevention and other eye care strategies. However, WHO also pointed out that eye conditions which do not typically impair vision, such as dry eyes and conjunctivitis, must not be overlooked as they are also part of the main reasons why people seek eye care consultation globally.
Factors Influencing Vision Impairment Across the Globe
According to the report, certain factors have been identified as the main drivers behind these distressing figures. They include:
An ageing population – Old age contributes directly to the total number of individuals who are visually impaired. This is because the prevalence of long-standing medical conditions which include eye diseases increases with age, thus raising the global disease burden. This in turn affects the longevity of the global population.
An inactive lifestyle – Increased time spent indoors and activities that involve minimal movement have led to an increased number of individuals suffering from an eye condition called “myopia”. The remedy to this problem is actually quite simple. Spend more time outdoors. Period. The same goes for the increasing prevalence of a disease called Type 2 diabetes mellitus. And although the actual cause behind this disease is unknown, obesity and inactivity have been known to be contributing factors. Without taking the right measures to keep this disease in check, it can quickly lead to an individual being visually impaired.
Limited access to eye care – The burden of vision impairment is one that is not borne equally: it is often far greater in people living within rural areas, people with low incomes, as well as women, older people, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities and indigenous populations. More astoundingly, low and middle-income earners in the Eastern and Western regions of sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia, have rates of blindness that are eight times higher as compared to people living in high-income countries. Rates of cataract and trachomatous trichiasis, additionally, are higher among women, particularly in low and middle-income countries.
Preventing more people from becoming visually impaired
Stronger integration of eye care within national health services are needed. This includes integration at primary health care level, so as to ensure that the eye care needs of more people are addressed. Integration can be done through prevention, early detection, treatment and rehabilitation. Routine eye checks and good diabetes control, additionally, can protect people from blindness. On top of prevention, the report states that, for people who have visual impairment which cannot be treated, independent lives still can be lived, provided they have the necessary access to rehabilitation services. These rehabilitation options include optical magnifiers, Braille for reading, smartphone wayfinders, as well as orientation and mobility training with white canes.
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