‘Avoidable blindness’ to increase dramatically by 2050

Published: 11 October 2017 at 21:30

Eye test

Anglia Ruskin University academic leads research into causes of vision loss

New data published in The Lancet Global Health shows that decades of declining “avoidable blindness” – uncorrected refractive error and cataract – is plateauing, and is projected to increase between 2015 and 2050.

A new paper by the Vision Loss Expert Group (VLEG) – co-authored by Anglia Ruskin University’s Professor Rupert Bourne and Imperial College London’s Dr Seth Flaxman – identifies the leading causes of blindness and moderate and severe vision impairment (MSVI) in 2015. 

Of the 253 million people worldwide who are blind or have MSVI, uncorrected refractive errors (123.8 million people) and cataract (65.2 million) are the main causes, followed by age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma.

In Western Europe, uncorrected refractive errors accounted for 49% of MSVI cases, and 15% of blindness in 2015. Cataract sufferers made up 15.5% and 21% respectively.

VLEG’s latest prevalence data shows progress between 1990 and 2015 resulted in some 90 million people globally being treated or prevented from becoming blind or moderately or severely visually impaired.

However, trends in an ageing and growing global population, coupled with the increase in myopia and problems related to diabetes, are taking us into a new era of blindness and vision impairment – an era where existing efforts are at serious risk of being overwhelmed, potentially leading to a threefold increase in blindness by 2050.

The data is mapped on the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) Vision Atlas, launched for World Sight Day on 12 October. This looks at the possibility of achieving the World Health Organisation’s Global Action Plan target of a 25% reduction in avoidable vision impairment (blindness and MSVI combined) by 2019 (based on 2010 figures).

Using the new VLEG data for both 2010 and their projection for 2020, the Atlas, which presents the complex science and data through maps and infographics, projects a 5.6% increase in the prevalence of avoidable vision impairment.

Professor Bourne, who co-ordinates the 100 collaborating ophthalmic epidemiologists involved in the VLEG, said: 

“Our study shows that in 2015, cataract and uncorrected refractive error accounted for 77% of the MSVI burden and 55% of blindness worldwide. Even in high income areas, preventable issues make up the majority of cases. Urgent action is called for to address this and provide adequate eye care services across the world.

“We are very supportive of the Vision Atlas initiative by the IAPB – this means the results of this scientific effort are now of practical value to everyone in supporting efforts to highlight, prevent, treat or rehabilitate those with vision loss in all countries.”

Peter Ackland, CEO of the IAPB, said: 

“The disturbing loss increase in numbers of people with vision loss worldwide show that our efforts at preventing vision loss are being eroded by an increasing and ageing global population. We believe the IAPB Vision Atlas will be an effective tool in understanding these trends and advocating for an increased commitment to eye health. The Atlas will help make vision count.”

The full paper can be read here.