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HomeminewsLancet Finds AU$530 billion Cost of Preventable Vision Loss

Lancet Finds AU$530 billion Cost of Preventable Vision Loss

A new Lancet Global Health report has found preventable sight loss cost the global economy AU$530 billion last year due to lost employment, with the greatest cost in East Asia ($116 billion AUD) and South Asia ($90 billion AUD).

The report, which examines new and existing research in eye health, was supported by 73 experts, including three from The Fred Hollows Foundation, across 25 countries.

The report also highlights gender and socioeconomic disadvantage. For every 100 men living with blindness worldwide, there are 108 women affected. Much of this gender imbalance is due to socioeconomic factors, such as reduced access to care.

Most people don’t realise just how important eye health is at giving people the ability to work, go to school, and lift families out of poverty

The Fred Hollows Foundation’s Head of Public Policy and Advocacy Brandon Ah Tong, one of the report’s expert consultants, said the research underscores the role of good vision in creating a more inclusive society.

“Most people don’t realise just how important eye health is at giving people the ability to work, go to school, and lift families out of poverty – particularly in agricultural societies where life revolves around hands-on labour,” Mr Ah Tong said.

“This research emphasises the socioeconomic benefits of good vision in enabling women and girls to play a vital role in society, support their families and achieve greater independence.

“Fred recognised that restoring sight and preventing blindness isn’t just about the individual. The benefits are a ripple, spreading from the person to their family, community, and the economy at large.

“For this reason, The Foundation has long been advocating for eye health to be integrated into Universal Health Coverage. This would mean everyone can get quality eye treatment without suffering financial hardship.”

The report also underscores the shortfall in the eye healthcare workforce as a major barrier to care in low and middle-income countries, with one ophthalmologist to serve one million people in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, compared to an average of 76 ophthalmologists per million people in high-income countries (and 40 per million in Australia).

The report builds on the World Health Organization’s World Report on Vision by looking at global development, economics, healthcare systems, equity and the workforce. Through this research, the Lancet Global Health Commission aims to inform governments and communities about the importance of improving eye health to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Case study – Fehmida Bibi, 38 years old, from Pakistan

Fehmida is a daily wage bangle worker living in a remote town in Hyderabad district. She is divorced with no children. Her parents died five years ago and she is living with her sister, a widow, and unmarried brother.

Fehmida works as a bangle worker to contribute to her family income as her brother’s income was insufficient to bear the family’s basic needs. For the past 15 years, she has made bangles by welding them together by flame through a traditional gas lamp, in dark cells without air or light.

Fehmida’s daily income from her bangle work is around PKR-250-300 (approximately US$2) per day.

A while ago, she noticed her vision worsening and she could not see clearly beyond a few metres, making her bangle work difficult. Fehmida was worried she would go blind and become completely dependent on her sister and brother. She did not tell her family about her condition or seek treatment due to the high cost of treatment.

One day Lady Health Workers (LHWs) came to her house and learned about her eye condition. In Pakistan, the LHW programme uses over 100,000 community workers to deliver eye care services door-to-door.

The LHWs suggested Fehmida visit a free eye camp organised by The Fred Hollows Foundation with the support of the Australian Government’s NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP). At the eye camp, Fehmida was diagnosed with mature cataract and referred to hospital for surgery.

Fehmida was over the moon when her vision was restored, saying she could not explain her happiness in words. Her work efficiency has increased and she now feels confident about being able to fulfil her family’s basic needs.

“I will always pray for the Lady Health Workers who assessed me and all those who supported me to have my sight restored,” Fehmida said.

“I was hopeless and felt that life treated me badly. I was divorced, facing extreme poverty and then faced the prospect of going blind.

“However, I am happy that my sight has been restored and I can now face my challenges with more strength.”

Click here to read the Lancet Global Health study.