Targets for avoidable sight loss are not being met - and its a global issue

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  • Cataracts account for almost half of the blindness worldwide
  • 1.1 billion people live with vision loss
  • Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in South Africa

Public health services across the world are missing the target to reduce avoidable blindness, according to a new study published in The Lancet Global Health.

The study found that cataracts are responsible for almost half the world’s vision loss.

According to Health24, a cataract is clouding of the normally clear lens portion of the eye – a gradual process that can eventually impair vision.

As the developing cataract blocks or distorts light entering the eye, those affected will experience a gradual, persistent and painless blurring of vision - like seeing through a cloudy lense or looking through a frosty or fogged-up window.

The research looked at eye healthcare surveys from 1980 with a special focus on the past 10 years. Overall numbers of people both blind and vision-impaired have increased.

It compared its finding to the targets that were set by the World Health Assembly, which aimed to reduce preventable blindness by 25%.

The study also noted an increase in vision loss due to diabetes eye complications, which is a particular concern in younger economically active age groups. Like cataracts, this cause of blindness can be avoided through early detection and timely intervention.

Covid pandemic likely making issue worse

The lead author of the study, Professor Rupert Bourne at Anglia Ruskin University, says that the results show that there is a need for eye care services to be strengthened across the globe.

“If this continues, health infrastructure will continue to creak and fail to reach the people that need relatively simple solutions to their vision loss. The effect of Covid-19 is likely to exacerbate this issue, with research having already shown delays and an increasing backlog of people in need of eye care.

It is absolutely vital that all nations have a robust public health strategy for dealing with avoidable sight loss, which costs healthcare services billions of pounds every year," he said.

According to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness about 1.1 billion people live with vision loss in 2020, 90% of these cases are from middle and low-income countries. The body projects that 1.7 billion people will be without vision by 2050.

The lack of access to eye care services is one of the driving forces in loss of vision. 

South Africa’s vision

Cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss according to local organisation Right to Sight Trust. Despite surgery to reverse the impact of cataracts being one of the most cost-effective procedures in medicine.

The organisation says that exception of the Western Cape and parts of the Eastern Cape, public healthcare services for cataract surgery are unable to meet demand.

Many state hospitals do not have ophthalmologists to perform the surgery or are understaffed due to posts not being funded.

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