World Sight Day 2017: A global call to action as avoidable blindness set to increase

Posted on: Thursday, 12th October, 2017
Smiling girl with glasses - World Sight Day banner

To mark World Sight Day (12th October), the latest global data and trends on blindness and vision impairment have been brought together in one place to help CBM and other international organisations address the most urgent eye health issues ahead.  

The  figures show that although the proportion of people globally who are blind has fallen since 1990, the number of people living with blindness could triple, rising to 115 million by 2050, unless there is a significant increase in available treatment. The new data also highlights once again the connection between blindness and poverty.  A person living in Niger, West Africa, is nearly twenty times more likely to be blind than someone living in the UK (just 0.09% of the UK population is blind, compared to 1.80% in Niger).

The updated IAPB Vision Atlas has been launched today by the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, an alliance of eye care organisations including CBM.  It breaks down statistics on  blindness and visual impairment by country, including the leading causes, and helps track countries making progress and those falling behind.

IAPB Vision Atlas findings

Data from the Vision Loss Expert Group

•     The absolute number of people who are blind increased from 30.6 million in 1990 to 36 million in 2015 due to a growing and ageing global population

•     More than 75% of all blindness and Moderate and Severe Vision Impairment is treatable.

•     89% of visually impaired people live in low and middle-income countries.

•     55% of visually impaired people are women.

•     The age-standardised prevalence of visual impairment has dropped from 4.58% in 1990 to 3.38% in 2015.

•      115 million are estimated to go blind by 2050, a threefold increase from 2015.

New global trends

One new projection in the Atlas that is causing particular concern to CBM and other organisations, is the projected increase in the global prevalence of avoidable visual impairment (blindness and Moderate and Severe Vision Impairment) by 5.6% by 2020 after 15 years of steady decline.

CBM’s Director of Inclusive Eye Health Dr. Babar Qureshi is supporting the IAPB in its call for action:

“The new figures in the Vision Atlas provide evidence to compel the global eye health community to increase our efforts immediately. Of particular concern is the  prediction that avoidable visual impairment will rise dramatically due to a growing and ageing global population and the rise in diseases such as myopia and diabetic retinopathy. Cost-effective solutions exist so we need to make sure they are available to everyone who needs them”

The Atlas estimates that half the world’s population could have myopia by 2050. With this figure and other predicted trends the IAPB is warning that existing efforts are at serious risk of being overwhelmed which could lead to a threefold increase of people who are blind or visually impaired by 2050. That’s 703 million people unless there is a significant increase in treatment available.

Peter Ackland, IAPB’s CEO says,

“The disturbing increase in numbers of people with vision loss worldwide show that our efforts at preventing vision loss are being eroded…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.”

Progress in eye health

This predicted rise however is not inevitable. Most blindness and Moderate and Severe Vision Impairment is treatable.  Using data across 25 years, the Atlas also shows a decline in age-standardised prevalence of visual impairment which is both “striking and evident in every world region” from 1990 to 2015. Rates in low-income countries, are much greater than those in high-income countries.

It’s clear from this evidence that the work of organisations like CBM is effective, and considering future trends, more necessary than ever.

Causes updated

Other new figures in the Atlas are the leading causes of blindness and Moderate and Severe Vision Impairment, MSVI.

Of the 253 million people who are blind or MSVI in 2015, uncorrected refractive errors, (123.8 million people) and cataract (65.2 million) are the main causes, followed by age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma.

The Vision Loss Expert Group of 100 ophthalmic epidemiologists, who supplied some of the Atlas’s data, is co-ordinated by Professor Rupert Bourne:

“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”.

Read our response to the projected increase in global blindness (August 2017)

Read more about CBM’s sight saving work

Visit the IAPB Vision Atlas

Infographic showing decreasing global prevalance of blindness and mod/severe visual impairment to 1990-2010, then rise 2010-2020

Infographic showing growing number of blind/MSVI people  1990-2015 and projected three-fold increase to 2050

Infographics: IAPB Vision Atlas



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