Why Are Global Blindness Rates Predicted to Soar?

New figures predict that, unless we act now, global rates of blindness will triple by the year 2050. What explains the anticipated increase — and what can we do to stop it?

Publishing their findings†in the “Lancet” this month, researchers drew attention to the incidence and prevalence of blindness. They explained†that as we face an increasingly older world population, levels of blindness are increasing at a dramatic rate — a challenge our health policy must meet head-on.

Led by Professor Rupert Bourne of Anglia Ruskin University, researchers examined†blindness and vision impairment from across 188 countries between 1990 and 2015. This provided the team with enough data to generate predictions for how blindness and vision impairment might look by 2020 and by 2050.

The researcher†team found that prevalence of blindness, or the number of people who were blind in a population group, actually went down. It decreased from 0.75 percent in 1990 to†0.48 percent in 2015.

But doesn’t that contradict the predicted increase in blindness? Not exactly.

What these numbers†likely show is that, through our health interventions, we are managing to reduce visual impairment rates. But the complicating factor comes down to the global population.

All things being equal, if the number of people in the world were to remain constant over the next three decades, global rates of blindness would probably continue to fall. However, based on population growth figures, we know that’s not going to happen.

Instead, there will be a†significant increase in global population. Today global population sits at 7.5 billion people. By 2100, we’re looking at 11.2 billion. Figures†put us at somewhere around the 9.7 billion mark by 2050.†

Part of what is leading to that population boom is also the fact that people are, on average, living longer than ever before. Age increases the risk of vision loss and complete loss of eyesight — and these factors combined, say the researchers, will lead†to higher rates of blindness and impairment in the future.

Lead researcher Professor Rupert Bourne, of Anglia Ruskinís Vision and Eye Research Unit, explained:

Even mild visual impairment can significantly impact a personís 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.

Bourne goes on to stress that the high levels of blindness and visual impairment in developing nations remain a persistent issue. South and East Asia are hit particularly hard by blindness, with 11.7 million people in South Asia affected, while 6.2 million are thought to suffer in East Asia.

Parts of sub-Saharan Africa also continue to experience†high rates of blindness and visual impairment, with the BBC estimating as much as four percent of some populations in the region suffer from blindness.

These areas will†likely continue to require our attention, but the study makes clear that scaling up interventions across the board — †in terms of foreign aid and domestic care — will be necessary. Otherwise, even in the West where only a small proportion of the population deals with blindness, rates will increase significantly.

Bourne adds:

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.

Maintaining a healthy†diet, quitting smoking and engaging in†regular exercise, among several other relatively easy to adopt habits, can all†help promote healthy eyes.

Far from only presenting bad news, this study serves as a warning of a future problem and, crucially, offers strategies to prepare for it.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

40 comments

Margie FOURIE
Margie FOURIEabout a month ago

Thank you

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Amanda M
Amanda Mabout a month ago

thanks for sharing

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Amanda M
Amanda Mabout a month ago

thanks for sharing

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Leo C
Leo Custerabout a month ago

Thank you for Sharing!

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Bronwyn B
Bronwyn Babout a month ago

Maintaining a healthy diet, quitting smoking and engaging in regular exercise: not rocket science but people seem to think it doesn't apply to them...

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heather g
heather gabout a month ago

There are several diseases which cause blindness in Africa. There are not enough doctors available to cure these people and a shortage of funds, food and water.

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Jaime J
Jaime Jabout a month ago

Thank you

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Joanna P
Joanna Pabout a month ago

There would be no unsolvable problems if population was controlled. Humans - and stock animals - more than doubled numbers in the 50 years from 1950 while all wildlife populations plummeted. All humans should have a comfortable home, water and electricity, health care and education. And they could, if the population halved. So that should be our major, overriding concern.

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Danuta W
Danuta Wabout a month ago

thanks for sharing

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Lisa M
Lisa Mabout a month ago

Noted.

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