Governments worldwide must take decisive action to end avoidable blindness as alarming new figures indicate the number of people living with blindness could triple worldwide by 2050.

Research published in Lancet Global Health predicts that without better funding and access to eye care services, the number of people who are blind will rise from 36 million to 115 million over the next 30 years.

The number of people who are blind is set to increase dramatically as people live longer and populations rise.

On a positive note, the report confirms the prevalence of blindness has declined from 0.75 per cent in 1990 to 0.48 per cent in 2015. This is attributable to action to lift socio-economic development, implement targeted public health programs, and improve access to eye health.

"The world is facing a growing population and an ageing population and we need to lift our game and do more," Fred Hollows Foundation CEO Brian Doolan said.

"These figures are a wake-up call for governments and communities everywhere to do more to end avoidable blindness.

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

"In many cases, The Fred Hollows Foundation can correct blindness with a simple 20-minute surgery that costs as little as $25 in some countries."

Key findings in The Lancet's report include:

  • There are 36 million people who are blind;
  • 217 million people have moderate to severe visual impairment; 
  • The prevalence of visual impairment has dropped from 4.58% in 1990 to 3.38% 
  • 89% of visually impaired people live in low and middle-income countries
  • 55% of visually impaired people are women;
  • Blindness affects 11.7 million people in South Asia, 6.2 million people in East Asia, 3.5 million people in South East Asia and more than 4% of the population in parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

"The highest burden of eye disease is in regions where we work like South East Asia, where we have already had an impact but more needs to be done," Mr Doolan said.

"The strategies being used around the world have been shown to work, all we need is to get them to the right scale to address the growing global need. 

"We know what to do, we just need the resources to do it."

The report also indicates Australasia has one of the lowest rates of blindness, however Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are still three times more likely to be blind than other Australians.

The Fred Hollows Foundation works in more than 25 countries including Indigenous communities in Australia to end avoidable blindness worldwide.