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Visual Impairment and Vision Loss – the Global Picture

Did you know that 1,1 billion people in the world live with some degree of vision loss? That’s about 15% of the global population. What makes this reality sadder is the fact that approximately 90% of cases are preventable and/or treatable.

Long-term or progressive damage can often be prevented through the treatment of eye infections, or by the wearing of protective sunglasses that can block out harmful UV rays. Other kinds of vision loss can either be restored completely or can be significantly improved through surgical interventions or corrective glasses. Yet, the majority of people with vision problems continue to suffer from their affliction because they cannot access the treatment or solutions they need. The main reason for this is economic – they simply cannot afford to.

Causes of Visual Impairment

Globally, the leading causes of visual impairment are:

  • Uncorrected Refractive Errors (when the shape of the eye prevents successful refraction, which helps to distinguish shapes and details).
  • Cataracts (a condition in which the lens becomes opaque over time resulting in blurry vision).
  • Age-related Macular Degeneration (the macula – the part of the eye that controls sharp, straight-ahead vision – deteriorates with age causing blurred central vision).
  • Glaucoma (increased pressure within the eyeball causing gradual loss of sight).
  • Diabetic Retinopathy (a diabetic complication that causes damage to the blood vessels of the retina).
  • Corneal Opacity (clouding or scarring of the cornea that leads to a decrease in vision).
  • Trachoma (a contagious bacterial infection of the eye causing inflamed granulation on the inner surface of the lids).

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What the Future Holds

The number of people with vision loss has been steadily growing since the 1990s and projections indicate that by 2050, this figure will rise by as much as 55%. There are two main reasons for this:

  • Ageing – as people live longer, their eyesight deteriorates. Age is associated with cataracts, age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma – all of which have an impact on vision.
  • Lifestyle – increased urbanisation, more sedentary and indoor lifestyles and less nutritious foods have led to an increase in obesity, which has contributed to a dramatic rise in the prevalence of diabetes. People with diabetes are prone to eye and vision problems (diabetic retinopathy).

This suggests that the need for sustainable and accessible eye healthcare, which is already completely inadequate, will become a bigger problem over the next three decades. Investing in eye health then is paramount.

Eye Health is an Investment

Investing in eye health improves overall well-being including physical and mental health. For example, vision loss increases the incidence of injuries through accidents. It can also limit mobility and activity, which could in turn exacerbate other health conditions that are neglected. People with vision loss may also suffer from mental health issues because of increased isolation.

On the other hand, better eye health enables personal development through education and/or gaining skills. It improves the quality and output of the workforce and increases community participation. Better vision has a positive impact on the safety of people, on an individual and social level.

Even the stats say the same: vision impairment leads to losses of over $400 billion in global productivity annually. Studies have also shown that investing in cataract surgeries can have a positive impact on local economies, as care for visually impaired or blind people places a much heavier burden on families, communities and governments.

It’s a no-brainer then – effective eye healthcare is actually an investment, not a cost.  

Addressing Eye Healthcare – Access is Key

The reality is that cost-effective solutions to vision problems already exist. Regular eye-testing is one of them, which enables us to pick up any issues early on. In most cases, an early diagnosis can prevent or slow down the progression of a serious issue. Simpler problems can be addressed with better eye health routines or through the introduction of corrective glasses. Similarly, treating eye infections is much more effective than addressing the problem when the infection has led to vision loss, which can sometimes be non-reversible.

Ummah Charity International (UCI) provides eye care for needy people in Pakistan. With as many as 60% of the population living below the poverty line, eye care is not prioritised. People struggle to fulfil even basic needs like food, shelter and clothing. In most cases they simply cannot afford medical care.

UCI operates Eye Camps in some of the poorest communities of Pakistan. To date we’ve organised sixty eye camps, facilitated by qualified medical professionals, serving between 250-400 patients. We provide:

  • Awareness and education on eye health.
  • Eye tests.
  • Corrective glasses.
  • Approved medication.
  • Cataract surgeries.
  • Referrals to hospitals for further treatment or surgeries, where necessary.

UCI’s Eye Care Project has assisted more than 15,000 people, since our launch in 2014. By providing the services listed above without charge, we’ve given people back their independence and mobility. Our interventions have made a direct impact on the quality of their lives and their income-earning capacity.

Learn more about our eye health interventions and contribute to our Eye Camps here.

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