WHO REPORT

Lack of access to simple eye care causing sight loss among billions

Some 2.2 billion people are living with a vision loss or blindness

In Summary

• The number is projected to rise in coming years due to an increase in an ageing population and changes in lifestyle.

•In Kenya, it is estimated that 224,000 people are blind while another 750,000 are visually impaired

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom at a press conference outside Afya House
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom at a press conference outside Afya House
Image: FILE

The inability to access simple eye care for conditions such as glaucoma and cataract has led to vision loss among more than one billion people globally.

Cataract operations or the use of glasses could save the eyesight of millions of people, suggests a World Health Organization report released yesterday ahead of World Sight Day today.

The 'World Report on Vision' shows that 2.2 billion people are living with a vision loss or blindness.

It is unacceptable that 65 million people are blind or have impaired sight when their vision could have been corrected overnight with a cataract operation, or that over 800 million struggle in everyday activities because they lack access to a pair of glasses,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

The WHO report says that some 1.1 billion have a vision impairment that could have been prevented or is yet to be addressed.

Ageing populations, lifestyle exposure and behaviours, genetics, infections and limited access to eye care, particularly in low and middle-income countries, have been pointed out as the main risk factors.

In Kenya, it is estimated that 224,000 people are blind while another 750,000 are visually impaired.

The situation is worsened by the low number of eye specialists in the country.

Women, migrants, indigenous peoples, persons with certain kinds of disability, and in rural communities bear the greatest burden.

Trachoma is largely found in poor, rural communities that have inadequate access to water, sanitation and health care.

Rural populations also face greater barriers to accessing eye care due to distances to travel and poor road quality, among other factors, it says.

The number is projected to rise in coming years due to an increase in ageing population and changes in lifestyle.

“Progress is not keeping pace with population eye care needs. Major challenges lie ahead,” it states.

The report gives ethnicity as a non-modifiable risk factor that is related to a greater risk of developing some eye conditions.

According to the WHO, most countries with indigenous people and ethnic minorities report higher rates of distance vision impairment among these population subgroups.

It adds that people of African descent and Latin American heritage residing in high-income countries, such as the US also have high rates of glaucoma.

“A survey in Nakuru, Kenya reported the odds of being blind were 2.5 times higher in indigenous Kalenjin people than in the non-indigenous population,” it states.

The report says that in general terms, people with severe vision impairment experience higher rates of violence and abuse, including bullying and sexual violence and are more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident.

Such people can also find it more difficult to manage other health conditions, for example being unable to read labels on medication.

People who need eye care must be able to receive quality interventions without suffering financial hardship.

“Including eye care in national health plans and essential packages of care is an important part of every country’s journey towards universal health coverage,” Ghebreyesus said.

The report states that all people living with blindness and severe vision impairment who cannot be treated are still able to lead independent lives if they access rehabilitation services.

Options given include optical magnifiers and reading using Braille, to smartphone wayfinders and orientation and mobility training with white canes.