Ninety million people have been treated or prevented from becoming blind or significantly vision impaired over the past 25 years. But, on World Sight Day, The Fred Hollows Foundation is joining international eye health organisations warning more needs to be done.

CEO of The Fred Hollows Foundation, Brian Doolan, said the success of efforts to prevent or treat avoidable blindness and vision impairment show we know what to do.

But with a growing and ageing population, we need to do a more of it.

Avoidable blindness set to rise - without action 

Research published in The Lancet Global Health today, shows 36 million people worldwide are blind and 217 million people have moderate or severe vision impairment.

Most of those people live in South Asia, East Asia and Southeast Asia.

The research by the Vision Loss Expert Group also estimates that without renewed efforts, the impacts of population growth and ageing could result in the number of blind growing to 115 million by 2050 and almost 600 million people suffering significant vision impairment.

“Yet more than 75 per cent of cases of blindness and vision impairment are treatable or preventable,” Mr Doolan said.

“In the past 12 years The Fred Hollows Foundation has supported surgeries or treatments for almost four and a half million people, eye examinations for more than 23 million people, and the distribution of antibiotics to halt the spread of trachoma to more than 45 million people.”

Calling on governments to take decisive action

Brian Doolan with an Indigenous Australian patient

On World Sight Day, The Fred Hollows Foundation, along with Sightsavers, Peek Vision, Clearly, The International Coalition for Trachoma Control and The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, are calling on governments to take decisive action to put avoidable blindness on the agenda, including at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in the United Kingdom next year.

“The Lancet research shows our combined efforts are clearly working, however we need to lift our game to stop the rise in avoidable blindness,” Mr Doolan said.

“It is appalling that four out of five people who are blind don’t need to be when their sight can be saved through simple prevention, surgery or treatment.

“By restoring sight we don’t only give people their vision, we enable them to work, receive an education, and relieve their dependence on others and on society.”

Poverty a major cause in restricting access to healthcare

Most cases of avoidable blindness can be treated with a simple fix such as cataract surgery, a 20 minute procedure The Fred Hollow Foundation can perform for as little as $25 in some countries.

However the overwhelming majority of people living with avoidable blindness (89 per cent), are in low and middle income countries. Generally, poverty restricts their access to healthcare.

As a result, their blindness or vision impairment not only impacts their quality of life, but also their livelihood and that of their families and communities.

“I have seen first-hand the impact avoidable blindness has on people and the extraordinary difference restoring sight makes to their lives,” said Gabi Hollows, Founding Director of The Fred Hollows Foundation.

“Over the past 25 years, many hundreds of thousands of people have helped The Fred Hollows Foundation restore sight and keep eye health and avoidable blindness on the global agenda.

“World Sight Day is a wonderful opportunity to thank everyone who has supported our work and to ask that we continue to keep Fred’s vision alive by calling on governments around the world to prioritise eye health.”

Avoidable blindness predicted to rise in the next three years 

The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), an alliance of international eye care organisations, has compiled the latest global data and evidence on blindness and vision impairment in the IAPB Vision Atlas published today.

The Atlas maps the latest data against the World Health Organization’s Global Action Plan target to reduce avoidable blindness and vision impairment by 25 per cent by 2019.

But rather than a decline, the Atlas projects a 5.6 per cent increase in the prevalence of avoidable blindness in the next three years.

It also includes projections to 2050, along with prevalence data by country and region from 1990 to 2015 to help eye care organisations, health ministries and policy makers to compare trends over time in different parts of the world.

“The Vision Atlas will be a useful tool in understanding eye health trends and advocating for an increased commitment from governments to eye health,” said Mr Doolan.

Key facts about avoidable blindness worldwide

  • 36 million people are blind
  • 217 million people live with moderate or severe vision impairment
  • Of those with blindness and vision impairment, 124 million people have uncorrected refractive error and 65 million have cataract
  • 89% of people with vision impairment live in low and middle-income countries
  • 55% of people with moderate or severe vision impairment are women
  • More than 1 billion people need a pair of glasses to be able to go about their daily tasks
  • The prevalence of blindness and vision impairment combined has dropped from 4.58% in 1990 to 3.37% in 2015
  • Without better funding and access to eye care services, the number of people who are blind is expected to rise from 36 million to 115 million over the next 30 years.

Want to know more? Find out more about what The Foundation is doing to end avoidable blindness here. 

Or to see what it's like to live with vision impairment like cataract, glaucoma or diabetic retinopathy, visit our Sight Simulator.