Worldwide, over 1.1 billion people are living with unaddressed sight loss. This can vary in severity,
but in many cases, it is intuitive that this will lead to a lack of productivity. Sight loss can cause or
exacerbate poverty through reduced employment prospects and work productivity, as well as
adversely affect educational opportunities and outcomes. This in turn will affect the community and
country-level economic power, eventually causing a productivity loss globally.
Recent research, conducted as part of the Lancet Global Health Commission on Global Eye Health,
defined this figure for the first time as $411 billion. By analysing recent economic, demographic and
prevalence data on sight loss and blindness, the authors were able to quantify how not addressing
vision impairment leads to reduced economic gains for the world.
The same team, led by The International Centre for Eye Health, also estimated that people living
with sight loss are 30.2% less likely to be employed. As employment is an important determinant of
economic development, social inclusion and well-being for individuals, households and communities,
this figure is worrying in terms of quality of life and global development. It is even more concerning
that the majority of this sight loss is avoidable.
In fact, more than 90% of people living with vision impairment that contributes to this figure are
doing so unnecessarily. Most people simply require glasses or a cataract operation, both of which
are existing and highly cost-effective treatments.
Indeed, studies have directly shown that offering free or subsidised cataract operations to people in
low-income countries improve their quality of life, ability to take part in productive activities and
Increasing access to simple, highly cost-effective treatments such as these should be a global priority
to increase workforce participation and productivity gains. Restructuring health systems and
prioritising investment in eye care is essential to achieving the United Nations Sustainable
Development Goals, thereby lifting the world out of unnecessary poverty and suffering.
Eye health can be improved by integrating eye health into existing health pathways and ensuring
that those most in need are properly identified. Technology can be great tool to do so,
improving screening, referral and treatment. Governments can also prioritise eye care through
training and better financing mechanisms.
Finally, improving equitable access to vision rehabilitation care and workplace adaptation, alongside
fair employment practices can help people living with vision conditions to attain a fuller quality of
life and remain in the labour market.
Now is the time to act to ensure that people and economies globally are not unnecessarily limited by
avoidable sight loss.