World’s 30% blind live in South-East Asia, accelerate efforts for comprehensive eye care: WHO

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On the occasion of World Sight Day on Thursday, the World Health Organisation called for the quality, inclusive and affordable eye health care for all. Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, urged the member countries to accelerate efforts to ensure that everyone, everywhere has equitable access to high-quality, comprehensive eye health services, in line with the newly adopted Regional Action Plan for integrated people-centred eye care 2022­–2030. 
“Globally, at least 2.2 billion people have a vision impairment or blindness. At least 1 billion cases of vision impairment could have been prevented or are yet to be addressed. Nearly 30 per cent of the world’s blind and vision-impaired live in the South-East Asia Region”, said Dr Singh.
Women, rural populations and ethnic minority groups are more likely than other groups to have vision impairment and are less likely to access care. In 2020, the estimated economic cost of blindness and moderate to severe vision loss globally was US$ 411 billion. The number of people with presbyopia – loss of near-distance focus – is projected to increase from 1.8 billion in 2015 to 2.1 billion by 2030, she said on the occasion.
However, most of the countries have eliminated trachoma as a public health problem, in line with the Region’s Flagship Priority on eliminating neglected tropical diseases. Bhutan, India, Maldives and Thailand have piloted WHO’s Revised Eye Care Service Assessment Tool, which aims to integrate eye care programmes into primary, secondary and tertiary care services.
The WHO guidance on strengthening diagnosis and treatment of diabetic retinopathy – a significant and growing challenge – continues to be implemented, advancing the Region’s Flagship Priority on preventing and controlling noncommunicable diseases. 
“Better integrating eye care services into existing health services, particularly to address cataract and uncorrected refractive errors, and especially at the primary health care level – where most people’s health needs should be met throughout the life course. Secondly strengthening the eye health workforce, with an emphasis on increasing the capacity of teams of health and social workers that are in close contact with affected individuals and communities, and also boosting community empowerment and engagement”, said WHO Regional Director.

Globally, the WHO Member States have adopted two targets for eye care by 2030 – a 40 per cent increase in effective coverage of refractive errors; and 30 per cent increase in effective coverage of cataract surgery. A new WHO report released this week shows that the median relative quality gap between ‘coverage’ and ‘effective coverage’ globally is 33.9% for cataract and 7.3% for refractive error, highlighting the need to not only increase coverage but also quality.
However, the South-East Asia Region aims to eliminate trachoma by 2025, and to ensure that at least 80 per cent of people with diabetes are screened regularly for retinopathy, and that 80 per cent of those identified with sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy are treated by 2030.