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Rapidly rising levels of sight loss are ‘tip of the iceberg’

Published: 24 February 2021 at 11:00

Eye test

New research article shows millions are living with easily treated ocular conditions

Eye conditions that do not cause vision impairment but have economic and social consequences represent a serious and growing challenge for public health services worldwide, according to a new paper published by The Lancet Global Health Commission.

According to research by the Vision Loss Expert Group, led by Professor Rupert Bourne of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), issues such as glaucoma, sore eyes, conjunctivitis and diabetic retinopathy affected hundreds of millions of people across the world in 2020 without causing moderate or severe vision impairment, and an ageing population means instances of these conditions are growing. In the UK, conditions that do not cause sight loss or blindness account for around 88% of GP consultations related to eye health.

The paper, entitled Vision beyond 2020, is co-authored by renowned academics across the world, and features a section by Professor Bourne, of ARU’s Vision and Eye Research Institute (VERI) on non-visually impairing ocular conditions. It was officially launched at the United Nations Friends of Vision webinar.

According to the research, around 76 million people around the world have glaucoma, but under eight million are moderate to severely visually impaired or blind because of it. Diabetic retinopathy has caused 4.4 million to be blind or have moderate to severe vision impairment, but around 160 million people have the condition. The global prevalence of diabetes has tripled in the past 20 years.

Other conditions that rarely impair vision include conjunctivitis, sore eyes or dry eyes. 

Professor Bourne said:

“People with moderate to severe vision impairment represent just the tip of the iceberg – there are many more millions who require eye care services, and it is important that we have standard terminology and robust definitions to measure the magnitude of eye disease that does not impair vision.

“The impact of these conditions on quality of life, and indeed their economic consequences, need to be rigorously assessed in order to inform healthcare planning and improve eye health.”

Professor Bourne is leading the call for support for a UK-wide sensory health survey, the UK National Eye Health and Hearing Study, to provide robust data to inform health services.