Millions Worldwide Need Eye Exams, Glasses

A study in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization estimates 65,000 additional optometrists, ophthalmologists, optical dispensers, and other eye-care professionals would be needed to provide these services.

A study published in the October issue of the Bulletin of the World Health Organization says governments could add billions of dollars to the global economy by investing in eye exams and providing eyeglasses for some 703 million people who need them. It estimates 65,000 more optometrists, ophthalmologists, optical dispensers and other eye-care professionals would be needed to provide these services, and it would cost between $20 billion and $28 billion to train them and operate the eye-care facilities needed.

"This is a drop in the ocean compared with the $202 billion in estimated losses each year in global gross domestic product due to the fact that these 703 million people are living with uncorrected refractive error," said a co-author, Professor Brien Holden at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

According to WHO, the four main types of refractive error are myopia (near-sightedness), hyperopia (far-sightedness), astigmatism (distorted vision), and presbyopia (near vision impairment. Uncorrected refractive errors are the most common cause of vision impairment worldwide and the second most common cause of blindness.

"Improving people's vision could generate considerable economic benefits especially in low- and middle-income countries, where these problems are to a large extent not corrected, and could make a major contribution to global development," Holden said.

His co-author is Kevin Frick, professor of health economics at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Governments face tough decisions over how best to use scarce resources. Now that we have evidence for the economic benefits of correcting refractive error, investing in eye care should be one of the easier decisions," he said.

The findings support a WHO 2009-2013 action plan for the prevention of avoidable blindness and visual impairments.

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