Global economy could save hundreds of billions each year by simply providing eye care

By: Tim Fricke, Brien Holden Vision Institute and Stephen Davis, Communications Manager, Brien Holden Vision Institute

Researchers have estimated the global economy loses US$244 billion each year in productivity because of vision impairment resulting from uncorrected myopia1. The loss stems from people being restricted from participating in the workforce or being unable to perform at their optimum when they are employed, while others are prevented from participating because they need to care for people with vision impairment.

People are less likely to have the eye care and glasses they need for myopia if they are older and live in a rural area of a less developed country. The East Asia, South Asia and South East Asia regions bear the greatest burden, where the cost of lost productivity exceeds 1% of GDP in each of them. This is a very significant proportion for one health condition, particularly one simply due to the fact that people cannot access an eye examination and appropriate spectacles.

There are several reasons why this might happen: the services may not be available or are beyond practical travelling distance, they may not be affordable, or individuals may not be aware their eye condition can be improved with this technology. This is reducing the ability of the least developed countries to achieve several UN Sustainable Development Goals, such as: no poverty; quality education; decent work and economic growth; and reduced inequalities.

The magnitude of the cost raises the question about what kind of investment would address this, and the economic case well and truly stacks up. A one-off investment of around US$20 billion would establish the services and train the eye care personnel needed to address all cases of avoidable vision impairment.2 Apart from uncorrected myopia, it has been estimated that the global economy loses US$25 billion annually from people being vision impaired because of uncorrected presbyopia3, all of whom would be covered by the same services.

Vision impairment can also impact on child development, education, mental health, functional capacity in older people and social interaction. So there are a multitude of potential benefits that would result from investing in establishing eye care services, additional to the direct economic ones.

1.    Naidoo KS, Fricke TR, Frick KD, Jong M, Naduvilath TJ, Resnikoff S, Sankaridurg P, Potential lost productivity resulting from the global burden of myopia: systematic review, meta-analysis and modelling. Ophthalmology. 2019 Mar;126(3):338-346. doi: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2018.10.029. Epub 2018 Oct 17.
2.    Fricke TR, Holden BA, Wilson DA, Schlenther G, Naidoo KS, Resnikoff S & Frick KD. Global cost of correcting vision impairment from uncorrected refractive error. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, published online ahead of print 12 July 2012.
3.    Frick KD, Joy SM, Wilson DA, Naidoo KS, Holden BA. The Global Burden of Potential Productivity Loss from Uncorrected Presbyopia. Ophthalmology [Internet] 2015 [cited 2018 Apr 13];122(8):1706–10. Available from:

Social media posts:
1.    244 billion is a big number to get your head around…
Now imagine this, the global economy loses $244 billion US dollars each year in productivity because of vision impairment.
Shocked? So are we!
@BrienHoldenVisionInstitute @UNSW @UKZN @JohnHopikinsUni @VisionCost
@worldHealthOrganization @MyopiaMovement #MyopiaMovement #ourchildren

2.    $244 billion dollars is what we are losing in productivity every year. How do you fix it? What is that cost? Researchers are raising the question.  
@BrienHoldenVisionInstitute @UNSW @UKZN @JohnHopikinsUni @VisionCost
@worldHealthOrganization @MyopiaMovement #MyopiaMovement #ourchildren




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