The Johns Hopkins Gazette: April 7, 2003
April 7, 2003
VOL. 32, NO. 29


By 2020, 76 Million Worldwide Could Go Blind Without Prevention

By Tim Parsons
Bloomberg School of Public Health

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Over 52 million people worldwide can avoid going blind if current and new resources are successfully implemented, according to a new study.

Researchers for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that without extra intervention, the global number of blind individuals would increase from 44 million in 2000 to 76 million in 2020. Vision 2020--The Right to Sight, an initiative co-sponsored by the World Health Organization and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, is aimed at eliminating avoidable blindness from cataract, trachoma, onchocerciasis, vitamin A deficiency and refractive errors and would decrease the 2020 projection by 52 million individuals. The economic gain of this program would be approximately $102 billion. The study, "The Magnitude and Cost of Global Blindness: An Increasing Problem That Can Be Alleviated," will appear in the April issue of the American Journal of Ophthalmology.

Researchers used existing data and epidemiologic models to estimate blindness prevalence and combined these and other data on national populations, gross domestic product per capita, labor force participation and unemployment rates to project the economic productivity loss associated with blindness. The global loss could grow from $42 billion to $110 billion if efforts to decrease vision loss do not change.

Kevin D. Frick, lead author of the study and associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, said, "The economic costs of blindness can be decreased by either finding ways to facilitate economic productivity of individuals who are or will become blind or eliminating avoidable blindness. Vision 2020 is an initiative aimed at the latter goal. If Vision 2020 were to be successful at decreasing the prevalence of blindness in all regions of the world to near the levels that are found in the established market economies today, a conservative estimate of the economic gain from increased productivity is $102 billion."

Frick and his co-author projected that the aging and growth of the global population over the next 20 years will lead to a large increase in the number of blind persons. The researchers said that this increase could be avoided by using existing and new resources at the causes of blindness for which proven interventions are available, such as cataract surgery.

Frick said, "Blindness and low vision are public health problems that will increase because of demographic trends unless there are additional interventions. If successful, Vision 2020 will reduce avoidable blindness by 429 million blind person-years and a minimum saving of $102 billion for unaccommodated blindness alone from 2003 to 2020."

Allen Foster, medical director of Christoffel-Blindenmission through the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, co-authored the study.