Around the world, the number of people who are either blind or who have some form of visual impairment is around 285 million. The vast majority of these live in developing countries where the major cause of blindness still remains cataracts, despite advances in medicine that can easily cure the condition and restore sight.
While we have five senses to draw on, blindness, or even being visually impaired, can cause major issues and complications for living. It can make people dependent on others and lead to isolation, lack of social and economic chances in life, and even lead to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. While blind individuals in Western countries can access high levels of support and health care, this cannot be said of many other regions of the world where people often suffer deprivation, stigma and discrimination.
According to the World Health Organisation:
- Of the 285 million people who have a visual impairment around the world, 39 million are classed as completely blind.
- A huge majority, some 90%, come from low income environments.
- While blindness, particularly due to a condition such as cataracts, can occur at any age, it affects older people more – 82% of people living with blindness are over 50.
- Conditions such as cataracts are curable. In fact, nearly four fifths of conditions that lead to visual impairment or blindness can be cured.
- Refractive errors account for 43% of eye conditions which can also be easily corrected by medical intervention.
- Only 1.4 million people in the world can actually be considered as irreversibly blind.
- 8 million people across the world suffer from trachoma which is brought on by living in unsanitary conditions.
While the number of people going blind or having to live with visual impairment has decreased over the last twenty years due to better intervention, there is still a great deal to do, especially in developing countries.
In the USA, as in many Western and developed countries, blindness or impaired vision remains one of the most common forms of physical disability. According to the CDC:
- 4 million Americans over the age of 50 are either blind or have some form of visual impairment.
- Of these, about 1.3 million are considered legally blind with a reduced central visual acuity of less than 20/200 or very limited field of vision view.
- Only a small number of people who are blind can actually read braille fluently – most using it for reading notes and labels.
In Europe and the UK:
- 1 in 30 people will experience sight loss.
- Unemployment among blind or partially sighted individuals is high at 75% despite the technology available to help people in work.
- Women are at a greater risk of becoming partially sighted than men. In the UK, two thirds of people living with sight loss are women.
- 20% of people over the age of 75 are likely to be living with sight loss. The major causes of this in older people are macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy.
Around the world, the incidence and treatment of blindness or visual impairment varies:
- According to the WHO, China has 18% of the world’s blind population. The main cause is cataracts and each year 400,000 people become blind because of this condition. Vitamin A deficiency in children is also a cause of major visual impairment problems.
- India is estimated to have about 12 million people who are blind, most of them in poorer part of the country and many suffering from conditions that are curable.
- Cataracts remain the leading cause of visual impairment and blindness in sub-Saharan Africa. 7.1 million of the world’s blind population live here.
It is clear that blindness and severe visual impairment impacts poorer communities more, particularly those of developing countries where health care is most stretched or unavailable. Many of the causes of blindness are curable and can be treated with the right surgical and corrective procedures.
WHO: Visual Impairment and Blindness
RNIB: Key Information and Statistics
American Foundation for the Blind: Statistical Snapshots