A new study published in The Lancet reports that more than one billion people are visually impaired around the world because they do not have access to reading glasses.
Furthermore, researchers estimate that 0.5% of the world’s population (36 million people) are currently blind.
Senior researcher at the Brien Holden Vision Institute (BHVI) and an author on the study, Dr Nina Tahhan, said: "We take spectacle correction for granted in the developed world, yet globally there are 1.1 billion people who are vision impaired, because they cannot access the reading glasses they need to see clearly."
The findings by researchers at the BHVI report that the global prevalence of blindness has increased by 18% since 1990. However, they highlight that, when taking into account the rate of population growth and ageing, the rate overall has declined, falling from 4.58% to 3.38%.
Analysing the 1.1 billion who are visually impaired as a result of not having spectacles, researchers reported that 89% live in low and middle income countries, while 55% are women.
Discussing the methods used to define visual impairment in the study, Dr Tahhan added: “It is very pleasing to see near vision impairment, due to presbyopia, officially counted in global vision impairment estimates. It is one of the simplest vision problems to correct, as just a pair of reading glasses is needed and it is the largest contributor to vision impairment globally, yet it has been historically overlooked.”
Study authors believe that “the modest investments made in the alleviation of vision impairment over this period have reaped considerable benefits.” However, population growth, as well as a change in age demographics, is causing a “substantial” increase in the overall number of people who are blindness and visually impaired, highlighting the need to scale up our current efforts in the years to come, they emphasised.
The authors state that the return on investment for vision interventions is much greater than most other health programmes.