Health and Healthcare Systems

Combating vision loss in Asia Pacific: A roadmap to 2030

A teacher instructs an elderly woman during a smartphone photography class. Vision loss disproportionately affects people in the Asia Pacific — but it is often preventable.

Vision loss disproportionately affects people in the Asia Pacific — but it is often preventable. Image: Reuters/Tingshu Wang

Ahmed Elhusseiny
Area Head of Asia-Pacific, Roche Pharmaceuticals
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Health and Healthcare

This article is part of: Centre for Health and Healthcare

Vision is fundamental to how we navigate and interact with the world, yet millions globally lack access to essential eye care. The 2021 UN Vision for Everyone resolution represented a significant milestone in global health, recognizing the substantial benefits that improved eye care can offer for education, poverty alleviation and economic growth. It set a goal of achieving universal access by 2030, challenging member states to develop and implement comprehensive national eye care plans.

This call to action is particularly pressing in the Asia Pacific, where the burden of poor eye health is significant. While the Asia Pacific region accounts for 51% of the global population, nearly two-thirds of those with moderate-to-severe vision impairment live in East, South and Central Asia. This disparity underscores a critical need for targeted action.

Vision loss in Asia Pacific: A preventable crisis

The situation in Asia Pacific is compounded by two critical factors. First, the region has one of the world's fastest-aging populations, with an estimated 1.3 billion people projected to be over 60 by 2050. Vision loss risk increases with age so this demographic shift presents significant challenges. Second, the region is home to around 227 million people living with type 2 diabetes, a major risk factor for vision loss.

Beyond the profound impact on an individual’s quality of life, vision loss has significant economic consequences. An estimated $410.9 billion in global economic productivity was lost in 2020 due to reduced employment of people with vision loss.

Given the scale and disproportionate burden of vision loss in Asia Pacific and the fact that 90% of vision impairment is either treatable or preventable, the case for prioritizing Vision for Everyone by 2030 goals in the region is clear.

Today, millions lack access to eye care and health systems face profound questions about caring for aging populations — that’s why a multi-pronged approach is essential. Here are five priorities for delivering eye care for all by 2030.

Vision loss is often treatable — but people must have access to the right healthcare.
Vision loss is often treatable — but people must have access to the right healthcare. Image: IAPB

Five priorities to deliver Vision for Everyone by 2030

1. Raise awareness: Aging doesn't have to mean vision loss

Vision loss doesn't have to be accepted as a natural part of ageing. It is crucial to raise awareness that vision loss can be preventable and treatable and to educate the public about eye care. With diabetic retinopathy one of the leading causes of visual impairment globally, awareness among people living with diabetes is especially important. Empowering individuals to take charge of their eye health can help protect their vision and ease the burden on our health systems.

2. Prioritize patient-centered care to reduce treatment burden and improve access

Treatments for eye conditions are only effective if they reach the patients who need them. Complex clinic visits and intricate procedures often act as barriers to care, affecting patients and caregivers and especially impacting those from rural areas or with limited resources. By leveraging innovative medicines and technologies that minimize the frequency and complexity of healthcare visits, the strain on patients, caregivers and healthcare systems can be alleviated, ultimately strengthening capacity and enhancing access.

3. Address the workforce gap by training the next generation of eye-care specialists

Health systems are already struggling to meet demand for eye care, and ageing populations will exacerbate this. While innovative treatments can play a role, bolstering the eye care workforce is vital. We must inspire future generations to pursue careers in eye care. One clear opportunity is to engage more women in the management of eye care. Globally, women represent only 25-30% of ophthalmologists, with even fewer in leadership and surgical specialties. Programmes like Malaysia's Women in Ophthalmology Forum serve as a model for fostering a stronger, more gender-inclusive workforce.

4. Invest in comprehensive eye health data collection

Real-world evidence provides crucial insights into how patients live with eye disease and the impact of treatments and care. Asia Pacific’s diverse population means data gaps are particularly concerning. We need comprehensive eye health data that reflect the real-life challenges of people from all communities and socioeconomic backgrounds — and that reflects the disproportionate impact of eye disease in women. By investing in comprehensive eye health data collection, we can gain a clearer picture of the region's eye health needs to underpin better policy decisions, improved resource allocation and more equitable access to care.

5. Recognize the value of collaboration

Achieving the ambitious goals of Vision for Everyone by 2030 requires breaking down silos and fostering a new era of collaboration across the public and private sectors, academia and NGOs. Public-private partnerships, such as the 10-year collaboration between Roche and the Singapore Eye Research Institute (SERI) to develop a sight-saving therapy is just one example of how these partnerships are imperative for accelerating innovation in treatment and care.

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Commit to eye-care innovation in Asia Pacific

As we approach the third anniversary of the UN’s resolution Vision for Everyone by 2030, we celebrate progress but recognize that sight loss remains a threat for millions in Asia Pacific. This is a preventable crisis that demands action.

The pharmaceutical industry holds a vital responsibility for developing sight-saving treatments and building collaborative partnerships to support equitable access to eye care. However, achieving this goal requires a united front and patients, governments and research institutions must be part of this multistakeholder effort. Increased investments in accessible eye care initiatives are critical and this includes using new technologies and prioritizing eye health within national healthcare budgets.

As we move forward, our global community's combined expertise and strengths are vital in creating an environment where comprehensive eye care and innovative treatments are the norm, not the exception. Each step we take towards the Vision for Everyone by 2030 goals helps us progress towards a future where everyone in our region has access to the eye care they need. By working together, we can enhance the quality of life through improved vision, making significant strides in healthcare for today and tomorrow.

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