Delayed access to eye care services is jeopardizing vision healthOctober 12, 20213 min read
"In a world built on the ability to see, vision, the most dominant of our senses, is vital at every turn of our lives. The newborn depends on vision to recognize and bond with its mother; the toddler, to master balance and learn to walk; the schoolboy, to walk to school, read and learn; the young woman to participate in the workforce; and the older woman, to maintain her independence.” - Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that a staggering 2.2 billion people in the world have a vision impairment and almost half of these cases could have been prevented or have been left unaddressed. Population growth and ageing are considered driving forces in the ever-increasing number of people diagnosed with eye conditions. Throughout the life course, vision is likely to change, with significant impact on a person’s quality of life and functional ability. The burden of vision impairment is not equitably distributed among the population, older adults are more likely to suffer from visual impairment.
Given the global burden of eye disease, prevention through primary and secondary health care is key to ensuring that healthy vision is maintained throughout the life course. Access to routine eye exams and treatment is a fundamental human right for every adult.
The impact of COVID-19 has had devastating consequences on the ability of older people to access preventative and essential eye care services. An optometry news article is warning of the snowball effect of delayed eye care services during the pandemic and in foreseeable future. There has already been an observed influx in advanced cases of diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and retinal detachment as a result of a lack of or delayed eye care consultations.
Research has found that amongst adult populations, vision impairment can severely compromise the quality of life and is also considered one of the most feared ailments. In 2019, the WHO released the World Report on Vision which highlighted evidence-based information on the burden of eye diseases globally and offered effective strategies and recommendations on eye care. Loss of vision had detrimental physical and mental health effects on older adults being associated with social isolation, difficulty walking, increased fall risk and increased likelihood to enter a care facility. A recent article by the Canadian Television Company (CTV) News highlighted some of the fears and apprehensions older adults face, including frustration with being unable to receive timely treatment and diagnosis, as well as the ramifications vision loss, would have on their ability to perform and enjoy the day to day activities.
Primary health services, such as routine eye examinations, are the key screening tools. The loss or delay in using these services can lead to an increased rate of irreversible chronic eye conditions. Lack of appropriate screening not only puts the vision of older adults at risk but also contributes to significant backlogs within the health care system, impacting not only community members but social workers, ophthalmologists, government officials and health care institutions. There is an urgent need to increase awareness and drive critical policy change to reflect the importance of ensuring adequate funding and timely access to eye care services.
To learn more about ophthalmology and eye health in the realms of global public health, contact Professor Serge Resnikoff, a Conjoint Professor at the School of Optometry and Vision Science, University of New South Wales from the IFA Expert Centre. To learn more about how to contribute to this important dialogue connect with Ms. Dana Elsaid (firstname.lastname@example.org) and visit the IFA’s Vision Health portfolio which includes the Eye See You and DR Barometer program.
World Health Organization. (n.d.). Eyecare, vision care, vision impairment and blindness. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/health-topics/blindness-and-vision-loss#tab=tab_1.
World report on vision. Geneva: World Health Organization;2019. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241516570
Serge Resnikoff Professor
Professor Serge Resnikoff is an international expert and consultant in global public health, ophthalmology, and eye health.