Global Coalition on Aging Calls on Governments, Health Systems, Employers, and Other Stakeholders to Prioritize Action on Eye Health

New paper challenges prevailing view that vision loss is a normal consequence of aging and warns about the fiscal unsustainability of inaction.

(New York –May 2, 2019) – Today, the Global Coalition on Aging (GCOA) released a new white paper, titled A Life Course of Healthy Vision: A Critical Priority for the 21st Century, which upends the prevailing view of deteriorating vision as an inevitable consequence of aging and examines the health and economic impacts of visual impairment and vision loss. The paper calls on policymakers, health systems, employers, and advocates alike to prioritize action to reduce the global burden of visual impairment and vision loss.

“For far too long, deteriorating vision has been accepted as simply a normal part of growing older,” said Michael W. Hodin, PhD, CEO of GCOA. “While we know that the vast majority of vision loss is among those over 50 – the fastest growing demographic group, globally – we also know that a full 80% of declining vision is avoidable with appropriate eye care, prevention, early intervention, and treatment. Because of the devastating impact of vision loss on functional ability, independence, quality of life, worker productivity, and, therefore, economic growth, government and employers alike must recognize the urgent need to interrupt our current trajectory. Failure to do so will be fiscally unsustainable for us all.”

In 2017, there were 253 million people worldwide who were considered visually impaired. This number is expected to more than double to 587.6 million by 2050, and the number of those with vision loss is expected to triple in this same time period. Visual impairment and vision loss are uniquely expensive, above and beyond the costs of direct medical care, as a result of the loss of independence that often follows. By next year, the indirect costs of visual impairment are expected to total $760 billion, largely due to increased care needs and lost productivity.

“Visual impairment and vision loss are devastating for the individual, who may no longer be able to work or to live independently and may now be at greater risk for depression, Alzheimer’s, and falls, among other health challenges,” said Dr. James Tsai, President of New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai. “And because of the important connection between eye health and the rest of the body, expanding our capacity to provide eye care can also yield important advances in our ability to diagnose and manage other health conditions, including neurological diseases, hypertension, and diabetes. Prioritizing vision on the health and economic policy agendas has the potential to yield exponential benefits.”

The white paper is based on insights from GCOA’s December 2018 Life Course of Healthy Vision roundtable, which brought together experts and advocates from the fields of eye health, aging, healthcare, business, technology, and academia. The paper identifies barriers to adequate eye care, including ageism, health system silos,treatment burden, strained capacity, and policy,and calls for immediate action across five key pillars:

  • Access and Capacity: Health systems must develop strategies to increase access to regular eye care and necessary treatments as well as increase the capacity of professionals across the care ecosystem to provide screening, prevention, and specialty care.
  • Financing: Policymakers must ensure that funding mechanisms support and incentivize wider access to high-quality eye care.
  • Research: To address the growing burden of visual impairment and vision loss, we must enable ongoing innovation in treatments, technologies, and interventions.
  • Education:Increasing literacy about basic eye health and the close connection between eye health and other health conditions are critical for both healthcare professionals and the public.
  • Workplace:Employers have an important opportunity and an interest in supporting eye health through wellness and screening initiatives, ensuring that our workforces remain healthy and productive at every age.

As momentum builds in preparation for the World Health Organization Decade of Healthy Ageing (2020-2030), member states, employers, and stakeholders around the world have a critical window of opportunity to recognize that healthy vision is an indispensable and underrecognized component of healthy aging and to commit to actions that prioritize a life course of healthy vision for all.

To read the full report, click here.

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