Author: Sara Habibipour
One of the largest underreported health problems in our world is blindness. 90% of the world’s blind live in low-income, high-poverty countries. The main cause of all of these blindness cases is cataracts; in low and middle-income countries, cataracts account for 50% of all blindness compared to just 5% in the West (World Economic Forum). This disparity can be attributed to the lack of affordable eye care in many regions of the world.
A group largely at risk for blindness is women. Women account for nearly 75% of cataract blindness. However, they do not receive surgery at the same rate as men. In some parts of Africa, the risk of going blind is over four times greater for women than men.
Blindness is not only a result of poverty, but it causes poverty, as individuals are unable to work or find jobs that are willing to accommodate their disability. Negative cultural stigmas also alienate sufferers from their communities, as they then lack social standing and authority over their own decisions. Blind individuals and the household members who care for them have reduced earning potential and undergo a loss of productivity. Even in the United States, that loss of economic productivity is $8 billion a year and the global annual loss in gross domestic product from blindness and low vision is estimated at between $19,223 million and $22,764 million (Unite for Sight).
In order to improve this situation, we need to take advantage of cost-effective solutions that already exist and prioritize them. Cataract surgery can cost as little as $50. One study shows that 58% of the women who had lost their jobs as a result of becoming blind regained those jobs following cataract removal. Prioritizing global eye-health programs is the key to not only curing blindness, but also improving economic productivity in low-income countries.