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A man blinded by trachoma pauses in Laikala, Tanzania. The disorder is caused by a bacterial infection that scars the eyelid.

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One billion people, many in poor countries, have major vision problems that could be fixed

At least 1 billion people live with moderate to severe vision impairment, such as glaucoma or age-related far-sightedness, that could have been prevented or could be corrected with glasses, cataract surgery, or other means, says a report released Tuesday by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The burden is disproportionately high in women and specific populations, including people in rural areas and low- and middle-income countries. Poor residents of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have rates of blindness eight times higher than people in high-income countries, WHO says.

The number of unaddressed vision problems will likely increase significantly in coming years as the world’s population ages and more people move to cities, the report says. Urban living is associated with increased rates of near-sightedness.

More than $20 billion would be needed to correct or prevent the unaddressed vision impairments, WHO says. The report recommends including vision care in primary health care settings and national health plans.

Vision impairment, not corrected or prevented

Uncorrected myopia causes an estimated $244 billion in annual global productivity losses; uncorrected age-related far-sightedness, $25 billion.

Age-related farsightedness Refractive errors, e.g. myopia Cataracts Glaucoma Corneal opacities Diabetic retinopathy Trachoma (bacterial infection) 826 124 65 7 4 3 2 Millions of people
Graphic: N. Desai/Science; Data: World Health Organization