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Sight test and glasses could dramatically improve the lives of 150 million people with poor vision

WHO releases new global estimates to mark World Sight Day

A simple sight test and eyeglasses or contact lenses could make a dramatic difference to the lives of more than 150 million people who are suffering from poor vision. Children fail at school, adults are unable to work and families are pushed into poverty as a result of uncorrected visual impairment.

To mark World Sight Day, 12 October 2006, the World Health Organization (WHO) has released new global estimates which, for the first time, reveal that 153 million people around the world have uncorrected refractive errors (more commonly known as near-sightedness, far-sightedness and astigmatism). Refractive errors can be easily diagnosed, measured and corrected with eyeglasses or contact lenses, yet millions of people in low and middle income countries do not have access to these basic services.

Without appropriate optical correction, millions of children are losing educational opportunities and adults are excluded from productive working lives, with severe economic and social consequences. Individuals and families are frequently pushed into a cycle of deepening poverty because of their inability to see well. At least 13 million children (age 5 to 15) and 45 million working-age adults (age 16 to 49) are affected globally. Fully 90% of all people with uncorrected refractive errors live in low and middle income countries.

“These results reveal the enormity of the problem,” said Dr Catherine Le Galès-Camus, WHO Assistant Director-General, Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health. “This common form of visual impairment can no longer be ignored as a target for urgent action.”

WHO previously estimated that 161 million people were visually impaired from eye diseases such as cataract, glaucoma and macular degeneration. Uncorrected refractive errors were not included in these earlier estimates. These latest WHO estimates add to the previous number and effectively double the estimated total number of visually-impaired people worldwide, bringing it to some 314 million people globally. The estimates also confirm that uncorrected refractive errors are a leading cause of visual impairment worldwide.

As part of the VISION 2020 Global Initiative to eliminate avoidable visual impairment and blindness worldwide, WHO has been working with its partners to improve access to affordable eye exams and eyeglasses for people in low and middle income countries. This new information concerning the prevalence of refractive errors will strengthen the efforts of the VISION 2020 partnership to raise awareness of the magnitude of the problem and spur increased commitment for action.

“Correction of refractive errors is a simple and cost-effective intervention in eye care,” said Dr Serge Resnikoff, Coordinator of WHO’s Chronic Disease Prevention and Management unit. “Now that we know the extent of the problem of uncorrected refractive errors, especially in low and middle income countries, we must re-double our efforts to ensure that every person who needs help is able to receive it.”

Note to Editors

Refractive errors occur when the eye is not able to correctly focus images on the retina. The result is blurred vision, which is sometimes so severe that it creates functional blindness for affected individuals.

The three most common refractive errors are:

  • Myopia (nearsightedness) – this is difficulty in seeing distant objects clearly.
  • Hyperopia also known as Hypermetropia (farsightedness) – this is difficulty is seeing close objects clearly.
  • Astigmatism - This is distorted vision resulting from an irregularly curved cornea.

For further information, or to arrange one-on-one interviews, please contact

Alexandra Touchaud
Communication officer, WHO
Telephone: +41 22 791 5053
Mobile phone: + 41 79 754 7763
E-mail: touchauda@who.int

Dr JoAnne Epping-Jordan
Senior Programme Adviser, WHO
Telephone: +41 22 791 4646
E-mail: eppingj@who.int

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