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Report warns blindness set to rise

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A new study published in Lancet Global Health warns the number of blind people across the world is set to triple within the next four decades.

The research predicts cases will rise from 36 million to 115 million by 2050, if treatment is not improved by better funding.

A growing ageing population is behind the rising numbers.

Some of the highest rates of blindness and vision impairment are in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Although the percentage of the world’s population with visual impairments is actually falling, according to the study, the global population is growing and so the number of people with sight problems will soar in the coming decades.

Analysis of data from 188 countries suggests there are more than 200 million people with moderate to severe vision impairment.

That figure is expected to rise to more than 550 million by 2050.

“Even mild visual impairment can significantly impact a person’s life,” said lead author Professor Rupert Bourne, from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge.

“For example, reducing their independence…as it often means people are barred from driving.”

He said it also limited people’s educational and economic opportunities.

The worst affected areas for visual impairment are in South and East Asia. Parts of sub-Saharan Africa also have particularly high rates.

The study calls for better investment in treatments, such as cataract surgery, and ensuring people have access to appropriate vision-correcting glasses.

Professor Rupert Bourne said that interventions provide some of the largest returns on investment in eye health.

“They 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,” he said.

In Australia, the CEO of the Fred Hollows Foundation, Brian Doolan, spoke to the research, saying that more needs to be done for social development, targeted public health agreements and accessible eye health facilities.

“The strategies being used around the world have been shown to work, all we need is to get them to the right scale to address the growing global need,” Mr Doolan said.

According to Mr Doolan, the leading cause of blindness worldwide is poverty, followed by gender.

The report also indicates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are still three times more likely to be blind than other Australians. Most blindness in Australia is due to readily preventable or treatable causes of vision loss, including cataract, diabetes, refractive error and trachoma.

The AMA continues to call on the Federal Government to correct the under-funding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services, including programs to limit preventable blindness.