A hundred million people and growing need specs

Lack of access to spectacles means 108 million people are left blind or severely visually impaired, calculates new research


Across the world, small gains in correcting refractive error have been outnumbered by rising populations in need of spectacles, experts say.

New research has concluded one in every 90 people worldwide lacks the corrective lens they need to see properly or at all – and the 108 million total was a growing figure.

Of this total, an estimated 101.2 million people have moderate to severe vision impairment from uncorrected refractive error (URE), leaving the other 6.8 million people blind.

The study, led by Professor Kovin Naidoo, CEO of the Brien Holden Vision Institute, pooled data from 250 studies to number-crunch the prevalence and long-term trends of varying severities of URE in regions around the world.

The study found the age-standardised frequency of URE had decreased worldwide between 1990 and 2010. Yet, because of population growth, the overall number of people affected by the eye condition grew.

The highest prevalence was in Southeast Asia, where 65% of people had refractive error.

Professor Naidoo noted there was a lack of data for some regions and years, but said the estimates, published last week in journal Optometry and Vision Science, were the best yet available.

He said that every case of URE could be treated, emphasising: “Globally one of the most simple, effective, and cost-effective ways to improve the burden of vision loss would be to provide access to affordable, adequate spectacles to correct refractive errors with the appropriate human resources.”

Vision Aid Overseas spokesman, Andy Holliday, told OT that the UK-based organisation was launched more than 30 years ago to address the problem of URE.

Over that period, its work has seen one million sight-impaired patients tested and treated. However, he added: “The need is enormous and growing. We’re constantly in need of professional volunteers.”

The charity – which currently runs programmes in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Zambia – is focused on the pressing optical needs in French-speaking Africa, he said. “We’re looking to expand in Burkina Faso and other parts of Francophile Africa."

“But we need the support of professional volunteers and corporations,” he emphasised.

Mr Holliday encouraged any practitioners interested in donating their time to visit the Vision Aid Overseas website.