One billion people suffer from preventable vision impairment: WHO

More than 2.2 billion people or nearly a quarter of the world's population have vision impairment or blindness, revealed the first World Report on Vision released by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Nearly half of these people – or at least 1 billion – have preventable eye conditions, but they continue to lead a life of discomfort.

Prevailing inequality at various levels has further exacerbated the situation. People in rural areas, financially challenged families, senior citizens, people with disability, ethnic minorities and indigenous populations have poor access to eye care to deal with conditions like short- and farsightedness, glaucoma and cataract.

Glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and trachoma are leading to moderate vision loss or blindness among an estimated 11.9 million people, which could be have easily been prevented, the report maintained.

"It is unacceptable that 65 million people are blind or have impaired sight when their vision could have been corrected overnight with a cataract operation, or that over 800 million struggle in everyday activities because they lack access to a pair of glasses," said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The report launched to mark World Sight Day on October 10 is an effort to motivate governments to prepare policies to prevent eyesight loss – partial or whole – particularly among the vulnerable sections of the society.

An investment of nearly 14.3 billion U.S. dollars is needed to provide treatment to one billion people living with impaired eyesight, the WHO estimated. Integrating eye care within national health services at various levels could help in the prevention, early detection and treatment of such patients. It would also help in effective rehabilitation of people facing serious eyesight problems, it suggested.

"In a world built on the ability to see, eye care services, including rehabilitation, must be provided closer to communities for people to achieve their maximum potential," said Dr. Alarcos Cieza, who heads WHO's work to address blindness and vision impairment.

Senior officials also raised concern about the unusual amount of time children spend looking at screens instead of participating in outdoor activities, which is contributing to eyesight problems. "Such trends are also impacting eyesight at an early age," they said.