The number of blind people across the world is set to triple from about 36 million to 115 million by 2050, due to a growing ageing population, a study warned today. Researchers led by Anglia Ruskin University in the UK analysed the prevalence of blindness and vision impairment in 188 countries between 1990 and 2015, as well as providing projections for 2020 and 2050. The study published in The Lancet Global Health journal is the first to include figures on presbyopia, a condition that affects one’s ability to read and which is associated with ageing. It reveals that worldwide, there are an estimated 36 million people who are blind, with the greatest burden occurring in developing countries in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
The researchers estimate that crude prevalence of global blindness declined from 0.75 per cent in 1990 to 0.48 per cent in 2015, while the rate of moderate to severe vision impairment reduced from 3.83 per cent to 2.90 per cent. This is likely to be a result of socio-economic development, targeted public health programmes, and greater access to eye-health services, researchers said. However, with most vision impairment being a result of ageing, as the population continues to grow and age, the number of people affected has increased globally. Their numbers rose from 30.6 million blind people in 1990 to 36 million in 2015, and from 160 million to 217 million people with moderate to severe vision impairment, researchers said.
In addition, the study projections suggest that prevalence rates could see an upturn by 2020 (to 0.50 per cent for blindness and 3.06 per cent for vision impairment). It also predicts further increases in the number of cases by 2050 if treatment is not improved – with almost 115 million cases of blindness and 588 million people with moderate to severe vision impairment. “Even mild visual impairment can significantly impact a person’s life, for example reducing their independence in many countries as it often means people are barred from driving, as well as reducing educational and economic opportunities,” said Professor Rupert Bourne, of Anglia Ruskin’s Vision and Eye Research Unit.
“With the number of people with vision impairment accelerating, we must take action to increase our current treatment efforts at global, regional and country levels,” he said. “Investing in these treatments has previously reaped considerable benefits, including improved quality of life, and economic benefits as people remain in work,” said Bourne.