Cases of blindness to rise to 115 million by 2050

Published: 2 August 2017 at 23:30

Man undergoing an eye test

New research highlights need for action at global, regional and national levels

The number of cases of blindness is predicted to rise to 115 million by 2050, according to new research published in The Lancet Global Health.

Led by Professor Rupert Bourne of Anglia Ruskin University, the study provides large-scale analysis of blindness and vision loss across the world. 

The research reveals that 2.05% of men and 2.79% of women in the UK have moderate to severe vision impairment, with 0.16 and 0.23% of the population respectively being blind. Worldwide, there are an estimated 36 million people who are blind, with the greatest burden occurring in developing countries in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

The study analysed the prevalence of blindness and vision impairment in 188 countries between 1990 and 2015, as well as providing projections for 2020 and 2050. It is the first to include figures on presbyopia, a condition that affects one’s ability to read and which is associated with ageing.

The researchers estimate that crude prevalence of global blindness declined from 0.75% in 1990 to 0.48% in 2015, while the rate of moderate to severe vision impairment reduced from 3.83% to 2.90%. This is likely to be a result of socio-economic development, targeted public health programmes, and greater access to eye-health services.

However, with most vision impairment being a result of ageing, as the population continues to grow and age, the number of people affected has increased globally. Rising from 30.6 million blind people in 1990 to 36 million in 2015, and from 160 million to 217 million people with moderate to severe vision impairment.

In addition, the study projections suggest that prevalence rates could see an upturn by 2020 (to 0.50% for blindness and 3.06% for vision impairment). It also predicts further increases in the number of cases by 2050 if treatment is not improved – with almost 115 million cases of blindness and 588 million people with moderate to severe vision impairment.

Professor Bourne, of Anglia Ruskin’s Vision and Eye Research Unit, said: 

“Even mild visual impairment can significantly impact a person’s life, for example reducing their independence in many countries as it often means people are barred from driving, as well as reducing educational and economic opportunities.

“With the number of people with vision impairment accelerating, we must take action to increase our current treatment efforts at global, regional and country levels.

“Investing in these treatments has previously reaped considerable benefits, including improved quality of life, and economic benefits as people remain in work. 

“Interventions for vision impairment provide some of the largest returns on investment, and are some of the most easily implemented interventions in developing regions because they are cheap, require little infrastructure and countries recover their costs as people enter back into the workforce.”

The study was funded by the Brien Holden Vision Institute.