Image, International Centre for Eye Health research and education group based at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
By Helen Carter
A report on global eye health calls for governments worldwide to adopt a new definition of eye health which includes maximised vision, ocular health, and functional ability, while recognising its contribution to overall health, wellbeing, social inclusion and quality of life.
The Lancet Global Health Commission on Global Eye Health: vision beyond 2020 report, published this week, also calls for eye care to be included in mainstream health services and development policies, arguing that this is essential to achieve the World Health Organisation goal of Universal Health Coverage and the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
It reveals that an estimated 1.1 billion people were living with untreated vision impairment in 2020 but researchers say more than 90 per cent of vision loss could be prevented or treated with existing, highly cost-effective interventions.
The Commission report was written by 73 leading experts from 25 countries including ophthalmologist and University of Melbourne Professor Hugh Taylor.
They say that with the right tools, strategies and funding, improving eye health can have immediate and substantial benefits for the economic and social prosperity of people and nations.
Researchers found addressing preventable sight loss could bring global economic benefits of $530 billion a year and was essential to reduce poverty and inequality, while improving education, gender equality and employment prospects.
The Commission identified an eye healthcare workforce shortfall as a major barrier to care in these countries, with one ophthalmologist serving one million people in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, compared to an average 76 per million in high-income countries.
Professor Taylor said: ‘Overall, Australia has excellent health care including eye care, however it’s not available, accessible, appropriate and affordable for all, particularly for Indigenous Australians.
‘It is wrong that our First Nations people and those living in low-socio-economic areas are still disadvantaged when it comes to preventable vision loss. This includes having access to proper hygiene facilities that play a key role in preventing eye infections and other illnesses.
‘Eye care needs to be integrated into universal health care as recommended by the WHO as it contributes significantly to achieving the UN sustainable development goals. It is important that data is monitored regularly to ensure all are receiving the eye care that they need and deserve.’
Women worse off
Evidence revealed impaired vision disproportionately affected women, rural populations and ethnic minority groups. New estimates suggest that for every 100 men living with blindness or moderate to severe vision loss worldwide, there are 108 and 112 women affected respectively. Much of the gender imbalance is determined by socioeconomic factors such as reduced access to care.
To develop and deliver comprehensive eye health services that are well integrated in national health systems, are people-centred, and further the sustainable development goals, the Commission authors call on governments to:
- Adopt the new definition of eye health.
- Promote the rights of people with vision impairment by creating a more inclusive society by providing rehabilitation services, assistive technology and accessible spaces.
- Include eye health as a key component of universal health coverage and part of planning, resourcing and delivery of wider health care. Key to this is strengthening eye care delivery within primary care.
- Eliminate cost barriers to accessing eye care by incorporating population needs into national health financing to pool risk and protect the most vulnerable.
- Improve access to quality eye care, particularly in remote areas, using technology and treatment developments in telemedicine, mobile health and artificial intelligence.
- Expand the eye health workforce to meet population needs for example by increasing the number of skilled personnel, strengthening training and providing better equipment.
- Integrate eye health teams into the general health workforce and train general healthcare workers in eye health.
Tagged as: Advocacy & government, Future, Indigenous eye health, International