According to Sightsavers, roughly 90% of all people suffering from visual impairments or blindness reside in developing nations. Because the organization recognizes the link between poverty and visual impairments, Sightsavers treats visual disorders, takes steps to combat preventable blindness and provides assistance to people with irreversible blindness. The organization, established in 1950, works in developing nations across Africa, the Caribbean and Asia.
Economic Impacts of Visual Impairments
Visual impairments have far-reaching impacts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that “good vision is important for good quality of life and loss of vision leads to disability, morbidity and loss of productivity.”
Disabilities and morbidities that arise from visual impairment take away from the human capital of a nation because the affected person can no longer serve as a productive member of the workforce and contribute to the economy. On a household level, there are economic impacts too. Households incur significant costs to treat advanced visual disorders.
The inability to work means reduced household income, exacerbating conditions of poverty in the home. Also, untreated visual impairments can lead to diseases or conditions that place a strain on the health care system of a developing country, which usually lacks the resources, infrastructure and personnel to take on this added burden.
In a study that the Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science journal published in 2018, researchers determined that a blind or visually impaired person suffers from a significant amount of fatigue in comparison to those without these afflictions. In turn, high levels of fatigue lead to a loss of productivity that materializes as “increased societal costs” and an intensified economic burden. Sightsavers treats visual disorders to prevent avoidable blindness and the consequences that come with a loss of vision.
The Year 2021 in Review
Over the last year, Sightsavers made several accomplishments despite the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sightsavers and its partner organizations were able to “deliver millions of treatments to combat neglected tropical diseases.” For instance, trachoma is an infectious neglected tropical disease that affects the eyes. Without treatment, trachoma can lead to blindness or visual impairment. With the help of Sightsavers, in April 2021, The Gambia was able to fully eradicate trachoma, one of the leading causes of blindness within the country.
Through the support of Sightsavers’ Equal world advocacy campaign, after years of efforts, in September 2021, Mali put into legislation legal provisions that safeguard the rights of people with disabilities, including those with visual impairments, so that they can obtain access to the same employment opportunities, education possibilities and social benefits as other people.
Sightsavers’ Other Accomplishments
In December 2021, Sightsavers won the Zero Project Award, an honor that “recognizes innovative policies and practices that improve the lives and support the rights of people with disabilities.” The award gives praise to a Sightsavers toolkit that launched in 2018, which provides recommendations on performing “an audit of health care facilities” and gives guidelines “on accessibility standards and examples of best practice.” Since the toolkit’s release, Sightsavers has utilized the specialized toolkit to provide training to more than 200 staff members from organizations that support people with disabilities as well as “governments and the private sector.” Sightsavers has also used the toolkit to “conduct accessibility audits in 50 hospitals across eight countries and complete priority accessibility renovations in 16 health facilities.”
Kareen Atekem, a neglected tropical disease (NTD) researcher from Sightsavers, was a finalist for the 2021 NTD Innovation Prize competition. Her project entails an innovative trap for Chrysops flies that spread a parasitic disease called loiasis, which affects the eyes. Atekem told Sightsavers that “If successful, our innovative trap will also allow us to monitor ‘Chrysops’ populations and eventually, control the spread of these biting flies. This could reduce the risk of loiasis for whole communities and regions.” By preventing loiasis, Sightsavers can safeguard the lives and livelihoods of people within high-risk areas.
The economies of all nations rely on the good health and well-being of citizens so that people can hold positions as productive members of the workforce. Sightsavers’ mission to safeguard vision is necessary for the growth and prosperity of countries. With a 90% rate of visually impaired individuals in developing nations, Sightsavers treats visual disorders to promote both well-being and economic growth.
– Kyle Swingle