SYDNEY, June 2 /PRNewswire/ --

A study published in the latest edition of Bulletin of the World Health Organisation (June 2009) estimates the global economy loses $269 billion(1) in productivity annually due to vision impairment.

The authors from Johns Hopkins University, the International Centre for Eyecare Education (ICEE), University of New South Wales (UNSW) and the African Vision Research Institute (AVRI) University of KwaZulu-Natal, say the problem could be eliminated simply, and very cost-effectively, by an eye examination and a pair of spectacles.

Of the 158.1 million worldwide with vision impairment resulting from uncorrected refractive error, 8.7 million are avoidably blind.

It is estimated the cost of correcting the vision of 158 million people with distance vision impairment would be far less than the lost productivity (including training the eye care personnel and creating the infrastructure for delivery and affordable spectacle supply).

Based on US costs, spectacles would be $26 billion over three years - around one tenth of the annual lost productivity. However, initiatives like the ICEE affordable spectacle programme, which provides eye care in developing communities, would require only $4 billion for the eye examinations and spectacles needed (including the costs of training the necessary eye care personnel).

The research creates a range of possible productivity gains using different assumptions. The productivity gain is greatest - $428 billion - when it is assumed that people in unpaid roles (e.g. home duties, subsistence farming) also make a measurable contribution to the world economy.

CEO of ICEE, Professor Brien Holden said, 158 million people are vision impaired because of uncorrected refractive error (URE) - which is correctable. The Western Pacific region, which includes China and Vietnam, has the highest estimated number of cases of URE at 62 million and is responsible for almost half the potential loss of productivity. The South East Asia region, encompassing Bangladesh, India and Nepal, has 48.7 million cases. Apart from the moral obligation, this research indicates that there is a tremendous loss of human potential with avoidable blindness and impaired vision due to URE.

Failing to act to eliminate avoidable blindness not only severely impacts on the lives of individuals, families and communities, but also creates this current significant economic burden on the global economy, he added.

We have understood for some time that vision impairment has a direct link to poverty. This study led by Smith and Frick's rigorous financial modelling, and based on ICEE researchers' field knowledge, adds further weight to the need to act urgently. I call on the developed world to commit to providing the financial support to allow this solution to proceed, Professor Holden said.

Head of the AVRI and Programmes Director for ICEE, Professor Kovin Naidoo, said, The great tragedy for people blind or vision impaired due to URE is that we have the solution and the resources to correct their vision. This study covered only URE for distance vision and does not account for costs associated with people affected by URE at near. Our recent work indicates that in addition to these estimates there is further productivity loss associated with the 517 million people affected by uncorrected presbyopia, 94% of who live in the developing world.


The study paper is online:

Authors: TST Smith, KD Frick, BA Holden, TR Fricke KS Naidoo. TST Smith was supported by an award from the US-UK Fulbright Commission; BA Holden and TR Fricke were both supported by a Blindness Prevention Grant from the Institute for Eye Research, Australia.

URE is the biggest cause of avoidable blindness and vision impairment in the world and is the simplest of all eye conditions to diagnose and correct. Today, 90% of blindness and vision impairment is in the developing world.

(1) The international dollar (I) is a hypothetical unit of currency with the same purchasing power that the U.S. dollar has in the United States at a given point in time. It shows how much a local currency unit is worth within the country's borders. Conversions to international dollars are calculated using purchasing power parities (PPP). If all the dollars were to be spent in the USA, then I$1 = 1USD.

For interviews and information contact: Stephanie O'Connell, ICEE: Cell: +61-439-600-312

Stephanie O'Connell of ICEE, +61-439-600-312,