Fighting blindness caused by diabetes in Bangladesh

Global blindness was slowing prior to pandemic study reveals

New data shows 33 million people are living with avoidable blindness and 260 million with avoidable moderate-to-severe visual impairment – simply because they can't access the right kind of care.

2021 has seen the official launch of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness’s Vision Atlas – a compilation of the very latest eye health data.

The report reveals that globally there are 43 million people living with blindness and 295 million people living with moderate-to-severe visual impairment. Out of these, a huge 77% is completely preventable or treatable.

This means that 33 million people are living with avoidable blindness and a further 260 million with avoidable visual impairment that is moderate-to-severe.

The good news is that the eye health community has a proven track record of getting results. Back in 2017 The Lancet Global Health reported that avoidable blindness figures were set to triple – to an indefensible 115 million people – by 2050.

The latest data published in the same journal shows that by 2050 the world is likely to have around 60 million people living with blindness. This is a huge reduction in the original estimate and a great testament to the hard work of the eye care community – including Orbis and our wonderful volunteers, partners and supporters – to offset the projected tripling!

​Dr. Hunter Cherwek is Orbis’s Vice President of Clinical Services.

Orbis Vice President of Clinical Services and Technologies Dr. Hunter Cherwek thanks the Orbis community for their support

Orbis Vice President of Clinical Services and Technologies, Dr. Hunter Cherwek, explains: “It’s heartening to see confirmation that the work we’re doing, along with our partners in the eye health community, is working. To offset the predicted tripling of blindness and visual impairment, reducing it from 115 million to 60 million is amazing”.

But there is still much work to do. As people live longer lives and the world’s population grows – and other trends like lifestyle changes and decreasing infant mortality rates lead to increases in conditions such as Diabetic Retinopathy, myopia and Retinopathy of Prematurity – we are seeing a growing number of people with sight-threatening conditions who need eye care.

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

The data outlined in the report was collected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The eye health community does not yet fully know the extent of the delays in treatment – but it is set to be dramatic.

Many of our partners had to divert resources to fight the pandemic, only tending to the most critical cases. Anecdotal reports suggest there is a global backlog of urgent eye care and a need to increase investment, resources and training.

Our teams have been working round-the-clock to limit the impact of the pandemic – continuing to provide top-class training to our partners via our online platform Cybersight and through VIRTUAL Flying Eye Hospital training projects, but there is so much more that needs to be done.

Orbis teams are fighting trachoma in Ethiopia

What effect will COVID-19 have on global rates of blindness?

As the world begins to reopen, our teams will be poised to provide in-person training as part of our ‘blended’ approach (a mix of online and hands-on training) and work side-by-side with our partners to build resources and help deal with this global backlog.

“It’s becoming clear that the pandemic has created a growing need for improved eye care and we’re doing all we can to support our partners with the training and resources they need” Hunter tells us.

“I would like to thank the Orbis community for all their support during 2020, and we’re going to need it more than ever in 2021.”

We’re confident that with your support we’ll be able to help jump start the post-pandemic recovery, ensuring people around the world can get the care they need and deserve.

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Help clear the backlog of urgent eye care needs