Global blindness plummets in 20 years

Published: 25 March 2014 at 11:51

Research provides first large-scale analysis of blindness and vision loss across the world

Professor Rupert Bourne, of Anglia Ruskin University’s Vision and Eye Research Unit, studied evidence to calculate estimates of the prevalence and causes of blindness and partial sightedness/impaired vision in 190 countries between 1990 and 2010.

The research revealed cases of blindness fell from 3.314 million people to 2.736 million in the developed world, and globally dropped by 37%. Partial sightedness fell by 27% across the world.

The prevalence of partial sightedness/impaired vision also fell in high-income countries by 38% from 25.362 million to 22.176 million.

Women in the developed world were more likely to be blind or have poor vision than men.

With up to 100 million people expected to develop diabetic retinopathy, with a third at risk of losing their sight, Professor Bourne also warned many sufferers of diabetes are at of increased risk of glaucoma and cataracts.

Professor Bourne said:

“Strategies to screen for diabetic retinopathy and provide timely treatment access are critical to prevent this condition from having a greater impact on blindness prevalence in the future.”  

By analysing 243 different studies, researchers calculated estimates of the prevalence and causes for each country for each of the years in the study period.

The main cause of blindness throughout the period shifted from cataract, a clouding of the lens, to macular degeneration, which affects the central vision, in all regions except Central and Eastern Europe. The most common cause of partial sightedness/impaired vision was uncorrected refractive error.

Professor Bourne added:

“This shows that even for the highly developed countries one of the most effective, cheapest and safest ways of improving vision loss by providing adequate spectacles for corrective refractive errors, is being overlooked.”

The results of the study are published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology. The Vision and Eye Research Unit is part of Anglia Ruskin’s Postgraduate Medical Institute.