More than one billion people are at risk of going blind globally by 2050 if the emerging myopia epidemic continues, researchers at the Brien Holden Vision Institute in Australia have warned.
The researchers predict that as a result of the growing incidence, up to one billion people who suffer with myopia will have a “significant” risk of going blind.
Currently, it is estimated that more than two billion people suffer with myopia around the world. However, researchers say that without behavioral interventions or the development of optical treatments, this could reach five billion in the next 35 years.
To mark Word Sight Day today (8 October), the Institute has issued a call to governments and health agencies globally to help halt myopia progression by funding research.
Acting CEO of the Brien Holden Institute, Professor Kovin Naidoo, said: “Today is World Sight Day and the Brien Holden Vision Institute is calling on the world – from governments and health agencies, to civil society, parents and schools – to protect the eye health of every child and adult and meet this major public health challenge of our time.”
He added: “Firstly, the public must be made aware that this threat exists. Secondly, we need researchers and public health practitioners to develop effective solutions. Thirdly, eye care professionals need to be better equipped to manage patients at risk.”
Myopia is particularly prevalent in East Asia. In some urban areas of Singapore, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea, for example, between 80%–90% of school leavers suffer with the condition. However, the issue is spreading to Western countries also, with data from the US showing increased rates of myopia, with 25% of adults experiencing the condition in 1970 compared to 42% in 2004.
Professor Naidoo stressed: “Myopia is not curable or reversible, but there are promising interventions using optical ad behavioural approaches that can help slow the progression and prevent people becoming highly myopic.
Calling on parents and teachers to also take action, he urged parents to encouraged their children to spend at least two hours outside a day, and to ensure that they are not spending long periods of time on electronic devices which force them to focus close up for extensive periods.
Professor Naidoo added: “Teachers and parents should ensure that children are screened for vision problems at regular intervals and can also be vigilant in detecting and acting on vision problems among children.”