WHO’s Blindness Prevention StrategyThe World Health Organization (WHO) has developed specific strategies to tackle blindness and related diseases through strategies including VISION 2020 and SAFE. Other countries may see progress in eye care support by implementing such strategies after the 74th World Health Assembly introduced a resolution to the improvement and accessibility of eye care services. Governments have adopted the resolution to make greater efforts to incorporate eye care in primary care. Methods from VISION 2020, SAFE and the recent PECI from WHO’s blindness prevention strategy may help bring the resolution to fruition.

Eye Disease: A Global Public Health Issue

WHO reported that at least 2.2 billion people suffer from visual impairment. Nearly half of these cases could have been prevented or have yet to undergo identification. A range of factors, including complications from disease, age, trauma and more can cause eye impairment. Some individuals do not receive timely treatment for preventative eye care, which can result in lifelong damage. Visual impairment can affect every aspect of a person’s life, ranging from career and school opportunities to independence and overall health.

For example, trachoma remains a public health issue in 44 countries. WHO says, using June 2021 data, that 136 million people reside in areas where trachoma is common. The individuals are also at risk of contracting trachoma-related blindness.

Visual impairment, such as blindness, leads to tremendous economic burdens and productivity loss. WHO estimates the cost of productivity losses from blindness and visual impairment at $2.9-5.3 billion per year. Some methods of treatment for visual impairments include surgery, corrective glasses and contacts as well as medication. The advancements in medicine allow more people to live without lifelong damage similar to blindness as such solutions are not as readily available for those living in rural areas or those of low income. VISION 2020 and SAFE are variations of the WHO’s blindness prevention strategy that aim to extend treatment for visual impairment and preventable blindness to regions where treatment is not readily available.

The Package of Eye Care Interventions (PECI)

According to the WHO, those living in developing countries or rural regions face inequities in the quality, rate and accessibility of eye care. Because of limited resources for eye care in low- and middle-income countries, estimates project that 50% of the global population will be living with vision impairment by 2050.

To support countries struggling with cases of vision impairment, some of which are preventable, WHO’s blindness prevention strategy has materialized in various solutions in the past two decades. One recent strategy from WHO is the Package of Eye Care Interventions (PECI) in 2020. This evidence-based approach, if implemented, allows countries to carefully determine where to prioritize budgets and integrate eye care interventions. The strategy will support work competency, fulfill medication and equipment needs and more. However, WHO’s blindness prevention strategy did not begin here.

VISION 2020 “Right to Sight” and SAFE

Before PECI, WHO developed the strategies VISION 2020 “Right to Sight” and SAFE. VISION 2020 began in the hopes of eliminating preventable blindness by the year 2020. Some of the goals of the strategy aimed to safeguard an estimated 100 million people, primarily in developing countries, from avoidable blindness. VISION 2020 also intended to save an estimated $102 billion in lost productivity from the time the strategy was implemented to 2020. This strategy, similar to PECI, focused on developing quality eye care facilities with trained eye care workers, implementing programs that help prevent major causes of blindness and promoting the integration of eye care in primary care.

Since then, WHO has recommended Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial cleanliness and Environmental improvement (SAFE) along with the previously mentioned strategies to prevent avoidable blindness. After the 74th World Health Assembly, more countries that have adopted the resolution may see progress in supporting their citizens with eye care and eliminating preventable eye diseases. By using WHO’s blindness prevention strategy, rates of preventable blindness may reduce.

– Michelanie Allcock
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