The greatest number of people who are blind reside in south, east and south-east Asia and in eastern and western sub-Saharan Africa

However, rates of blindness among older adults are highest in eastern and western sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia.

The study was published in The Lancet Global Health journal on 2 August 2017, and forecasts predict that there will be almost 115 million cases of blindness by 2050.

Number of cases has increased

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Although rates of blindness and vision impairment have gone down in recent years, as the world population ages, the number of cases has increased. The new estimates highlight the need to scale up efforts to alleviate vision impairment to help improve quality of life, and educational and economic opportunities globally.

Visual impairment can impact quality of life

“Even mild visual impairment can significantly impact a person’s life, for example reducing their independence, as, in many countries, it often means people are barred from driving, as well as reducing educational and economic opportunities.

“With the number of people with vision impairment accelerating, we must take action to increase our current treatment efforts at global, regional and country levels,” says lead author Professor Rupert Bourne, Anglia Ruskin University, UK.

Important to invest in treatments

To counter the growing numbers of cases of blindness and vision impairment, the researchers note the importance of investing in treatments. They also note that, between 1990 and 2010, when investments were made in treatments for vision impairment, prevalence of blindness was reduced.

“Interventions for vision impairment provide some of the largest returns on investment, and are some of the most easily implemented interventions in developing regions because they are cheap, require little infrastructure and countries recover their costs as people enter back into the workforce,” adds Professor Bourne.

Some uncertainty in estimates

The researchers note that there is some uncertainty in their estimates, as a result of there being a lack of data in developing regions, and of inclusion of studies that were not nationwide. The projections to 2050 will also depend on how the world population and levels of service provision will evolve.

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