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This Eye Problem Costs the Global Economy $244B a Year, According to a Study

The costs stem from lost productivity.

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Vision impairment caused by uncorrected myopia cost the global economy an estimated $244 billion in lost productivity in 2015, according to a new study published in the scientific journal Ophthalmology.

The research estimated that 538 million people had vision impairment resulting from uncorrected myopia, with the East Asia region, which includes China, bearing the greatest burden of productivity loss of around $150 billion. The South Asia and South East Asia regions also experienced significant productivity loss at over $30 billion each. This represents more than 1% of GDP in each of the three regions.

The authors say a one-off investment of around $20 billion would establish the services necessary to provide vision correction to all who need it, potentially leading to a significant annual saving in productivity.

Co–author Tim Fricke, from Brien Holden Vision Institute, said, “On current trends we expect there will be 2.6 billion people with myopia globally in 2020. While the majority will have access to corrective lenses such as spectacles and contact lenses, enabling them to have good vision, current service capacity will leave well over half a billion people unable to access an eye examination and appropriate correction. This includes around 54 million people classified as having mild vision impairment, who, although not formally recognised as being vision impaired, still experience a loss of utility, albeit relatively small, which is accounted for in this study.

“The impact of vision impairment on lives can be substantial, including affecting employment, education and social interaction. This study captures one element of that, demonstrating the scale of the economic burden. For a single health condition to result in a loss of over 1% of GDP is enormously important. The findings also serve to highlight the potential value in funding the interventions needed to eliminate this unnecessary impairment.”

A combination of factors explains the substantial burden in East Asia, said Professor Padmaja Sankaridurg, head of myopia at Brien Holden Vision Institute.

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“The high-density urban living with a focus on near based activities has resulted in high prevalence and also in a large number of people with inadequate visual correction,” Sankaridurg said.

Along with East Asia, other regions significantly impacted are South Asia and Southeast Asia, both estimated to suffer productivity loss of over $30 billion in 2015. The researchers conclude that people with myopia are “less likely to have adequate optical correction if they are older and live in a rural area of a less developed country.”

“Peak international eye care and health agencies, governments and international NGOs are working collaboratively to build the sustainable eye care systems that would address this need,” said Sankaridurg. “This research demonstrates a need for funding to be either prioritised or sourced, to allow the successful implementation of these efforts.”

The researchers note that lost productivity resulting from myopia-related vision impairment represents only part of the overall economic burden of myopia. Direct costs such as expenses related to eye examinations, refractive corrections and managing pathological consequences of myopia such as MMD, and related opportunity costs, are not covered in their analysis.

“Even without considering these other costs our analysis shows that the burden is substantial and the savings by implementing the services needed would be significant,” Sankaridurg said.

The study, “Potential Lost Productivity Resulting from the Global Burden of Myopia: Systematic Review, Meta-Analysis and Modelling,” was conducted by researchers from Brien Holden Vision Institute, University of New South Wales (Australia), African Vision Research Institute, University of KwaZulu Natal (South Africa) and Carey Business School at Johns Hopkins University. It was supported with funding from Brien Holden Vision Institute and the Vision Impact Institute.

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Since launching in 2014, INVISION has won 23 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at [email protected].

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