• Uncorrected poor vision is the world’s most widespread disability.
  • Although 75% of all blindness and visual impairment is treatable, there is a lack of access to eye care in many societies.
  • To meet global health goals, the world needs 14 million optometrists.

The pandemic has shown the world that we do not have enough healthcare professionals to meet the needs of a growing and ageing population, now or in the future. Blindness and visual impairment are more than just health issues, as vision is generally not on the priority list for many countries, whether developed or developing. Uncorrected poor vision is the world’s most widespread disability. It is estimated to cost the global economy $272bn annually through productivity loss. It limits educational attainment and creates public safety risk.

Globally, at least 2.2 billion people have a near or distance vision impairment, with greater prevalence in regional and remote areas, among women, the elderly, people with other disabilities, and ethnic minorities. The good news is that 75% of all blindness and visual impairment is treatable or preventable.

Uncorrected refractive error is the major cause of visual impairment and the second leading cause of blindness, and optometrists are the core providers of refractive error correction globally through the provision of spectacle lenses and contact lenses. Cataract is the leading cause of blindness worldwide and optometrists play an important role in the diagnosis of cataract and referral for ophthalmic surgery.

There is a global need for more eye care professionals, with some areas facing a much greater shortage than others. Blindness rates in sub-Saharan Africa's western and eastern regions, as well as South Asia, are eight times higher than in high-income countries.

There are 331,743 optometrists in the world, according to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness. Nigeria and India alone are projected to need about 440,000 and 2,500,000 optometrists respectively by 2030. Fourteen million optometrists are needed globally to provide effective and adequate eye care services, using the World Health Organizations’s global recommendation of a 1:600 practitioner-to-patient ratio.

Vision and good eye health contribute significantly to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and feature in several of the SDGs, including quality education, gender equality, poverty reduction, decent work, economic growth, and decreasing disparities.

People who need eye care must be able to receive high-quality interventions because good vision supports the employment of adults, the participation of children in school, an increase in household income, and the reduction of hunger. And yet, 191 out of 194 national health strategic plans do not include eye care.

How to develop an adequate eye care workforce

To provide the world with the necessary eye care workforce, we need to do the following:

  • Governments need to recognise the optometry profession and to legalize or regulate it as required.
  • More universities need to establish programmes to train optometrists to support populations around the world.
  • Governments need to create a just working environment for optometrists with safe staffing levels and fair salaries.
  • Key members of eye-care teams should receive specific training to enable them to succinctly state and present the case for eye health.

As the world’s population grows and ages, blindness and visual impairment globally are expected to triple over the next 30 years. This is why we need to significantly increase the number of eye care personnel, and to address an increasing incidence of preventable vision loss. The journey towards bridging the eye-care gap will require us to gather data, harness the power of communities, win public trust, and collaborate closely across sectors.