Momentum is building in global eye health to solve the problem of one billion people living without the eyeglasses they need to see to earn, learn, be safe and enjoy all of life’s beautiful details. It is an exciting moment for us as a sector, for eye health professionals everywhere and, most importantly, for the communities we serve.
We now have a global consensus that eye health is a driver of the human development agenda. In 2021, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the first resolution on eye health, linking affordable and accessible vision correction to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. This resolution calls on governments and the international community to create access to eye care by 2030, integrating it into universal health coverage, including at the primary care level.
We also have a shared goal. The World Health Organization (WHO) has approved the first global targets for eye care; aiming to achieve a 30% increase in effective cataract surgical coverage, and a 40% increase in effective refractive error (including presbyopia) coverage by 2030. This means that in districts and countries that have eyeglasses coverage rates of 20% today, we will have to work together to achieve 60% coverage over the next seven years.
The starting line for this global effort has also been drawn. In October 2022, the WHO released the first baseline report by which to measure progress towards better eye health. It revealed that median effective coverage of refractive error (with eyeglasses, contacts or laser surgery) rates range from 14.5% in low-income settings to 92% in high income ones (based on visual acuity threshold of 6/18). If the adage ‘what gets measured, gets done’ applies, then we now have a collective accountability tool to spur action.
Now is the time to move from consensus, goals and targets to solutions. And with the global economy losing $411bn every year from lost productivity among adults who need eyeglasses, there is no time to waste.
You are a part of the solution. Eye care professionals have a big role to play in making clear vision available, affordable, and aspired to by all people. Here are a few ways to get involved.
Activate your community on World Sight Day
Mark your calendar for October 12 and join the global campaign to help people prioritise their own eye health and prompt leaders to ensure eye health is accessible to everyone, everywhere. For more information, visit the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness website at iapb.org/world-sight-day.
Let inspiration prompt action
Each of us has a customer or patient whose life has touched us in some way. In that moment, our hearts lift. That was the experience of VisionSpring’s founder Dr Jordan Kassalow. As a student optometrist on a mission in Central America, he was inspired to find a more scalable way to solve the global issue of uncorrected refractive error than handing out donated glasses. If you are looking for a little inspiration, consider reading his memoir Dare to Matter. We all have a role to play.
Collaborate beyond eye health circles
Now, we must build bridges into other ecosystems and collaborate with others who care about the outcomes that we create: increased productivity and income, educational gains, road safety, gender equity, financial inclusion, and mental health. Clear vision accelerates all of these, which serves as a powerful basis for strategic collaboration.
We have all heard someone say, ‘glasses make your eyes weaker.’ In Bangladesh, 30% of rural and peri-urban community members believe this myth and the same is true among college students in Nigeria. As a result, people postpone getting their vision checked or seeking out glasses. If you are working in African and South Asian diaspora communities, your expert counselling has the power to inform your customers and patients as well as encourage care in families that extend into many countries.
Offer the dignity of choice
If you are involved in charitable eye care, offer your programme participants a range of styles to choose from. People everywhere and at every income level care about how they look and how they are perceived. For example, in rural Bangladesh we found that survey respondents were highly accepting of other people wearing glasses but 56% were self-conscious about wearing glasses themselves. They worried about standing out, looking old, having divots from ill-fitting nose pads. Bringing a selection of styles gives programme participants the dignity of choice and improves wearing habits.
Uncorrected refractive error resulting in vision impairment is the most prevalent disability globally. By actively discussing these issues, opticians can motivate others to make a substantial impact on global eye health.
There are many intractable problems in the world. This is not one of them. Together we can create access to eyeglasses and a path to comprehensive eye care for everyone.
- Ella Gudwin is chief executive officer at VisionSpring, a global social enterprise dedicated to affordable eyewear.