Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

WHO shines a light on the global vision crisis

  • Written by  James Chen
  • Published in Opinions
WHO shines a light on the global vision crisis (Image: Vision for a Nation)
14 Oct
2019
More than two billion people globally have uncorrected poor vision, something that can be corrected with a simple pair of glasses. As the WHO releases the first ever global analysis of the state of poor vision, James Chen, founder of Vision for a Nation and Clearly shows how concerted action can make a world of difference

The publication of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Report on Vision last week was a landmark moment for the eye health sector. The report brings to a conclusion a 30-month study from the premier global health institution. There have been decades of darkness on the world's largest unaddressed disability. Now, at long last, this report shines a light upon this issue.

Stay connected with the Geographical newsletter!
signup buttonIn these turbulent times, we’re committed to telling expansive stories from across the globe, highlighting the everyday lives of normal but extraordinary people. Stay informed and engaged with Geographical.

Get Geographical’s latest news delivered straight to your inbox every Friday!

The report establishes three critical arguments that all public health and development professionals must heed. First, it finds that at least 2.2 billion people have poor vision – nearly a third of the world’s population. Of these, at least one billion have vision impairment that could have been prevented or has yet to be addressed. The number is huge but intuitive. Imagine how many people’s lives would be blighted in the developed world if eye care and the use of opticians was the preserve of a wealthy elite. Yet this is precisely the predicament for people in low- and middle-income countries. The WHO concedes that the estimate is ‘conservative’ and points to the gaps in knowledge, particularly about children’s vision. Previous estimates by respected bodies such as the World Economic Forum and lens manufacturer, Essilor, of 2.5 billion people with uncorrected poor vision may be closer to the mark.

Improving eye health in RwandaImproving eye health in Rwanda (Image: Vision for a Nation)

Second, the World Report outlines how poor vision affects a person’s quality of life and negatively impacts education attainment, workplace productivity and road safety. It points out that women are more likely to have vision-related problems and less likely to get treatment. As WHO boss Dr Tedros writes: ‘We take vision for granted, but without vision, we struggle to learn to walk, to read, to participate in school, and to work.’ I have often argued that vision is the ‘golden thread’ through the Sustainable Development Goals that ties all of these areas together. If we are to get serious about tackling the SDGs, which are already a third of the way through their lifespan, we must tackle poor vision.

Third, the report argues that eye care must become part of universal health coverage. This argument should be tautological: how can health coverage be truly universal if it excludes eye health (or any area of healthcare for that matter)? But for too long eye health has been seen as an optional extra. The UK is a prime example. Cost-cutting measures in the early days of the National Health Service ended a brief period of fully integrated optometric services. Instead, the UK has a fragmented eye service where the poorest have the worst access to necessary services. The US is even worse with the precise type of health insurance determining the availability and cost of eye care services.

Rwanda health care graphic(Source: Vision for a Nation)

As the WHO report makes clear, the rest of the world has an opportunity to leapfrog markets such as the UK and US by putting in place systems of primary eye care for all. In 2012, I began working with the Rwandan Ministry of Health to do just that. We created a three-day training programme for community nurses to carry out basic sight tests; dispatched 2,600 nurses to 15,000 villages around the country, and have – to date – screened 2.5 million Rwandans, around 20 per cent of the population. This seemed impossible just a decade ago since Rwanda had just eight eye doctors in total. Without the innovation, it would have taken them four centuries to examine this number of people. Given the positive results, the Rwandan government has absorbed all of the costs into its own health budget.

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR MONTHLY PRINT MAGAZINE!
Subscribe to Geographical today for just £38 a year. Our monthly print magazine is packed full of cutting-edge stories and stunning photography, perfect for anyone fascinated by the world, its landscapes, people and cultures. From climate change and the environment, to scientific developments and global health, we cover a huge range of topics that span the globe. Plus, every issue includes book recommendations, infographics, maps and more!

Improved eye health in RwandaMore than 2.5 million Rwandans have been treated since 2012 (Image: Vision for a Nation)

Rwanda’s next step is piloting sight screenings in schools. Childhood myopia (or short sightedness) is growing rapidly. By 2050, it will nearly double to affect 500 million kids worldwide. Many more children struggle with eye allergies such as conjunctivitis, which become highly distracting and incapacitating when left untreated. As noted in the WHO report, the impact on education attainment of uncorrected poor vision is profound.

James Chen is the founder of Clearly and Vision for a Nation

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

Related items

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

DurhamBath Spa600x200 Greenwich Aberystwythherts

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in OPINIONS...

Opinions

With energy bills soaring across Europe, Marco Magrini examines what…

Opinions

Mark Maslin is a professor of climatology at University College…

Opinions

Greenwashing is rife, making it difficult for consumers to judge…

Opinions

The results of the G7 were disappointing; world leaders need…

Opinions

If governments and large energy companies fulfil their promises, we…

Opinions

We’re running out of time to tackle climate change, but…

Opinions

The end of overpopulation? With scientific evidence suggesting that fertility is…

Opinions

Jyoti Fernandes is an agroecological farmer based in Dorset and…

Opinions

Marco Magrini shares his views on the government's new White…

Opinions

Joe Biden’s entry into the White House is good news…

Opinions

Science and technology are making incremental steps to a cleaner…

Opinions

An uncertain future makes predicting it big business says Marco Magrini

Opinions

The only way forward is to reject coal, says Marco…

Opinions

A proposed development at Toondah Harbour, in the Moreton Bay…

Opinions

Many of the crises we are currently experiencing trace their…

Opinions

The Covid-19 pandemic has profoundly shocked energy markets, but it’s…