• Poor vision is one of the top three causes of disability worldwide.
  • Poorer, female, older: more likely to be affected.
  • In some countries, eye care is obligatory for children.

Vision plays a significant role in life - at each stage of life. It connects and impacts with many areas of life, such as education, employment and recreation. 80% of learning comes through vision, impacting directly a person’s success in life.

Globally, out of the 7.7 billion of population, 2.5 billion people are estimated to suffer vision impairment. This represents a significant portion of the global population who require eye care and other services and are prone to barriers in the day-to-day life. The World Health Organization lists poor vision among top three leading causes of disabilities in the world, and individuals who suffer poor vision are unable to access eye care or unaware they might need it.

Poor vision is associated with poverty. People with lower socio-economic status, consequently with lower levels of educational achievement, poor housing, lower income and with reduced possibility to access health services are more likely to suffer vision impairment. Conversely, other studies have shown that higher income or wealth status was associated with increased access to eye care services and lower rates of vision impairment.

Poor vision is associated with gender. More women than men bear the burden of vision impairment, for different reasons: lower levels of access to general health services owing to their lower social status; due to challenges with the methods in which eye care services are delivered (that do not meet the needs of women); or simply because women are more likely to acquire specific diseases due to gendered roles, as for example, blindness caused by trachoma is two to four times higher in women than in man.

Poor vision is associated with age, in particular when it comes to understanding that one is suffering from poor vision. 30% of children are believed to suffer poor vision, and this inherently affects their ability to learn in a long-term their health. Children with poor vision are at a major disadvantage in school as 80% of all learning occurs through vision. A number of studies report associations between vision problems, poor school performance, and lower quality of life.[10] These studies indicate that 44% of the parents are not aware that children’s behavioural problems can have origin in vision impairment, and that it can strongly impact on their future health.

vision eyesight global 2015 impairment eyes
Blindness and moderate to severe visual impairment worldwide 2015
Image: Raconteur, IAPB, Statista

Tackling poor vision, from a “bottom-up” perspective

1. Advocating for eye care

Community-based organizations hold an increasingly central role in the representation and advocacy of marginalized groups and individuals, especially with regards to health and health services, making significant contributions. One strategy is to push government and local authorities to make eye care obligatory for every kid entering school (as in some countries), integrate eye care into national health strategic plans and support high-quality research on eye care, and make eye care an integral part of universal health coverage. As well as to raise awareness, involve and empower people and communities - specifically underserved populations, such as women, migrants, indigenous peoples, and persons with certain kinds of disability – of the importance of early identification of eye conditions; the need to prevent and address vision impairment; and how they can be empowered to gain access to eye care services. And to use campaigns in attempt to reduce misconceptions and stigma among children and their parents; and encourage parents to have their child’s eyes checked.

2. Engaging community-based organizations into public-private partnerships

From the top-bottom perspective, global partnerships, public-private partnerships, corporate philanthropy present important contributors to the success of programmes that address vision health. To take an example, Vision 2020, a World Health Organization initiative between 1999 and 2020 has raised awareness about vision loss, increased commitment to the preventing blindness and cooperation WHO, government and non-government organisations. This was followed by World Health Assembly resolution 62.7 and its action plan for the prevention of avoidable blindness and visual impairment.

I'm proud to be leading the not-for-profit project “Young Shapers of Albania” - founded by a group of young members of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Hub in Tirana. They have committed to eradicate poor vision throughout their country and are currently implementing an initiative of Vision for Life Essilor in Albania based on a commitment taken by Essilor to eradicate poor vision at the global level by 2050. In a three months project: 527 teachers have been trained to conduct Snellen/Acuity tests in 21 primary schools - 5000 went through Acuity tests. Of them, 800 children have been visited by ophthalmologists. Those who needed them, received their first pair of glasses before New Years eve.

Drivers of change

The good news from all this is that almost half of those suffering vision impairment have preventable eye conditions, if diagnosed at early stage. This means it only takes early detection – to keep an eye on vision health. And, often, only a pair of glasses - to live a life free from poor vision.

Health and healthcare

How is the World Economic Forum bringing data-driven healthcare to life?

The application of “precision medicine” to save and improve lives relies on good-quality, easily-accessible data on everything from our DNA to lifestyle and environmental factors. The opposite to a one-size-fits-all healthcare system, it has vast, untapped potential to transform the treatment and prediction of rare diseases—and disease in general.

But there is no global governance framework for such data and no common data portal. This is a problem that contributes to the premature deaths of hundreds of millions of rare-disease patients worldwide.

The World Economic Forum’s Breaking Barriers to Health Data Governance initiative is focused on creating, testing and growing a framework to support effective and responsible access – across borders – to sensitive health data for the treatment and diagnosis of rare diseases.

The data will be shared via a “federated data system”: a decentralized approach that allows different institutions to access each other’s data without that data ever leaving the organization it originated from. This is done via an application programming interface and strikes a balance between simply pooling data (posing security concerns) and limiting access completely.

The project is a collaboration between entities in the UK (Genomics England), Australia (Australian Genomics Health Alliance), Canada (Genomics4RD), and the US (Intermountain Healthcare).