Published: 14 October 2022 at 13:00
Professor Rupert Bourne’s work informs World Health Organisation eye care targets
A vision expert from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) has addressed the United Nations (UN) in New York City with new research that has informed ambitious treatment targets announced this week by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Speaking at the launch of the WHO’s Report of the 2030 targets on effective coverage of eye care at the UN headquarters, Professor Rupert Bourne presented his research, published this week in The Lancet Global Health, that reveals that less than half of over-50s worldwide have received the spectacles or contact lenses they need to correct refractive error.
Uncorrected refractive error is the leading cause of moderate and severe distance vision impairment worldwide, affecting at least 157 million people in 2020, but can be treated with simple interventions such as spectacles or contact lenses.
The new study was carried out by the Vision Loss Expert Group, led by Professor Bourne, who is also a consultant ophthalmologist with Cambridge University Hospitals. Researchers analysed data from 169 different studies from across the world to calculate figures in several defined regions for treatment coverage of distance and near refractive error.
The research found that while adequate treatment coverage of distance refractive error – conditions such as myopia, astigmatism, or moderate to severe hyperopia – had increased by 19% since 2000, still only 43% of all adults over the age of 50 are receiving simple treatments for these conditions, with the number at 21% coverage for those with problems of nearsight, known as presbyopia.
Treatment coverage for distance refractive error varied worldwide, from 79% in the defined ‘high income’ region, including countries such as the United States, to just 5.7% in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The study also highlighted a gender gap in all defined regions of the world, with lower levels of coverage in women.
The WHO report sets out an ambition to increase the treatment coverage for distance refractive error by 40 percentage points by 2030, using Professor Bourne’s research as a baseline.
Rupert Bourne, Professor of Ophthalmology at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said:
“There is growing evidence that improving eye health and preventing vision impairment can directly contribute to the achievement of many other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as the reduction of poverty and improvements in work productivity, education, and equity.
“This has been recognised by the United Nations and our research has been able to inform targets for the WHO to improve treatment outcomes across the world.
“There are multiple social and cultural reasons that influence coverage of treatment for refractive error. Of these, the lower coverage among women is most striking. We believe that differences in access to healthcare and take-up of services are likely to be the main reasons for this gender inequality.
“It is clear that if we are to meet these WHO targets, the quality and quantity of refractive services across the world must be improved.”