16 February 2011 Return to news listings
• New statistics indicate global reduction
• Shift from infectious to chronic conditions
• Asian regions worst affected
Recently released World Health Organization (WHO) data indicate that prevalence of visual impairment has been significantly reduced to 285 million. Of these, 246 million have moderate to severe visual impairment, while an estimated 39 million people are blind.
This reduction reflects the investment of governments and their international development partners in improving eye health services and strategies. Socioeconomic developments in many countries have also contributed to these welcome trends.
Key Global Facts:
• A total of 285 million people are visually impaired
• Of these, 39 million are blind
• 246 million have moderate to severe visual impairment
• 63% of those with low vision and 82% of blind people are over 50 years of age
Of the six WHO world regions, South East Asia and Western Pacific account for 73% of moderate to severe visual impairment and 58% of blindness.
This is all the more remarkable given that the number of people over 50 years old – the age group most affected by visual impairment – continues to grow rapidly, increasing by 14% in the past 5 years.
International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness CEO, Peter Ackland said, “These figures are really encouraging as for the first time we have a clear indication of the downward trend in the absolute number of visually impaired people in the world. Undoubtedly much of this success is attributable to the efforts of the many governments and international agencies involved in the VISION 2020: The Right to Sight global initiative.
While enjoying this success we must remember that there are still some 285m people in the world who are visually impaired and that approximately 80% of these cases could be cured, treated or prevented in the first place – so there is no room for complacency – instead we need to redouble our efforts to support VISION 2020.”
Challenges remain to achieve the VISION 2020 goal of eliminating the main causes of avoidable blindness by the year 2020. The top three causes of blindness in the 2010 estimates are cataract, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration, while uncorrected refractive errors are the main cause for moderate to severe visual impairment. This highlights the recent trend towards a decline in infectious diseases, while chronic diseases, which affect both the developed and the developing world, are rising steeply.
While the new data clearly indicate reduced prevalence, no direct comparison can be made with previous data as the methodology to estimate the prevalence of visual impairment and blindness is different from the one used in previous studies. For more information, please visit the WHO PBD website: http://www.who.int/blindness/en/index.html