Working towards a Region free from visual impairment

News release

The Fred Hollows Foundation

On World Sight Day, the World Health Organization calls on Member States to direct focus on the prevention of avoidable blindness and visual impairment with this year’s theme “Get Your Eyes Tested.”

“I urge Member States to implement strong interventions to reduce avoidable blindness and visual impairment,” says WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr Shin Young-soo. “Avoidable blindness is a public health problem that not only affects patients, but also their families and communities.”

The prevalence of visual impairment is alarmingly high. WHO estimates that in 2010, 285 million people were visually impaired (90 million in the Western Pacific Region), including 39 million blind people (10 million in the Western Pacific Region).

Eighty per cent of visual impairment can be avoided or treated. Early detection is key to saving sight for millions of people. Three quarters of visual impairment is caused by two conditions: uncorrected refractive errors (43%) and unoperated cataract (33%). Both conditions can be treated successfully and cost effectively with eye glasses or surgery, respectively.

Visual impairment may cause dependency on others, debilitating individuals and their families. Educational opportunities, gainful employment and productivity are severely compromised by poor vision or loss of sight. Economic losses due to avoidable visual impairment are staggering: it was estimated that the global economic loss from visual impairment was US$ 42 billion per year in 2000; and the loss is expected to rise to US$ 110 billion by 2020.

Who is at risk?

About 65% of all people who are visually impaired are aged 50 and older. With an increasing elderly population in many countries, more people will be at risk of age-related visual impairment. In addition, an estimated 19 million children are visually impaired, of whom 12 million children have uncorrected refractive error. Ninety per cent of visually impaired people live in developing countries.

The global response

Data over the last 20 years show significant progress in preventing and curing visual impairment in many countries. Governments have established national programmes and regulations, and eye care services are increasingly integrated into health care systems. Since 2009, China has invested more than US$ 100 million in the delivery of cataract surgeries. WHO coordinates the international efforts to reduce visual impairment. Its role is to:

  • develop policies and strategies to prevent blindness;
  • give technical assistance to Member States and partners;
  • monitor and evaluate programmes; and
  • coordinate international partnerships.

In 2013, the World Health Assembly endorsed the draft action plan Towards Universal Eye Health: A Global Action Plan (2014–2019). The action plan is a road map for countries and WHO to achieve a measureable reduction of 15% in cases of the avoidable visual impairments by 2019.

Furthermore, the draft regional action plan, to be discussed at the Sixty-fourth session of the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, emphasizes the following important principles:

  • positioning blindness and visual impairment prevention higher on the public health agenda;
  • development of cost-effective, integrated and comprehensive interventions for prevention and management of blindness and visual impairment;
  • strengthened health systems approach to blindness and visual impairment prevention with an emphasis on primary and secondary care;
  • enhanced monitoring, evaluation and reporting; and
  • expansion of partnerships and networking with stakeholders.

For further information, please contact:

Dr Andreas Mueller
Technical Officer, Prevention of Blindess
Telephone: +632 528 9885

Dr Hai-Rim Shin
Team Leader, Noncommunicable Diseases and Health Promotion
Telephone: +632 528 9860

Mr Ruel E. Serrano
Assistant, Public Information Office
Telephone: +632 528 8001