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News World research Reports Poverty

$530 billion lost in 2020 due to preventable blindness, study shows

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Fehmida Bibi, 38 years old, from Pakistan, a victim of preventable blindness

A new Lancet Global Health report has found preventable blindness cost the global economy $530 billion AUD last year due to lost employment, with the greatest cost in East Asia at $116 billion AUD and South Asia at $90 billion AUD.

The report, which examines new and existing research in eye health, was supported by 73 experts, including three from The Fred Hollows Foundation, across 25 countries.

The report also highlights gender and socioeconomic disadvantage. For every 100 men living with preventable blindness worldwide, there are 108 women affected. Much of this gender imbalance is due to socioeconomic factors, such as reduced access to care.

The Fred Hollows Foundation’s Head of Public Policy and Advocacy Brandon Ah Tong, one of the report’s expert consultants, said the research underscores the role of good vision in creating a more inclusive society.

“Most people don’t realise just how important eye health is at giving people the ability to work, go to school, and lift families out of poverty – particularly in agricultural societies where life revolves around hands-on labour,” Mr Ah Tong said.

“This research emphasises the socioeconomic benefits of good vision in enabling women and girls to play a vital role in society, support their families and achieve greater independence,” he said.

Mr Ah Tong also emphasised that the foundation’s founder, Fred Hollows “recognised that restoring sight and preventing blindness isn’t just about the individual. The benefits are a ripple, spreading from the person to their family, community, and the economy at large.”

“For this reason, The Foundation has long been advocating for eye health to be integrated into Universal Health Coverage. This would mean everyone can get quality eye treatment without suffering financial hardship,” he said.

The report also underscores the shortfall in the eye healthcare workforce as a major barrier to care in low and middle-income countries, with one ophthalmologist to serve one million people in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, compared to an average of 76 ophthalmologists per million people in high-income countries (and 40 per million in Australia).

In Pakistan, the Lady Health Worker programme uses over 100,000 community workers to deliver eye care services door-to-door.

The report builds on the World Health Organization’s World Report on Vision by looking at global development, economics, healthcare systems, equity and the workforce.

“Through this research, the Lancet Global Health Commission aims to inform governments and communities about the importance of improving eye health to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals,” the organisation said in a media release.

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