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Vision loss is a global issue affecting millions of older individuals, with a significant proportion of cases being preventable or treatable. The World Health Organization estimates that 2.2 billion people live with vision impairment worldwide, and out of those, 1.1 billion could have avoided or received treatment for their condition. The impact on older people is particularly pronounced, with an estimated 73% of cases of avoidable vision loss occurring in this age group – amounting to 800 million older people today. As the population ages, this number is projected to increase to 1.28 billion people by 2050, primarily in low and middle-income countries.
Existing health and social disparities contribute to the increased burden of vision loss in older people, especially for older women and disadvantaged groups. Indeed, older women are disproportionately affected, accounting for 56% of vision loss cases.
A new report released by The Fred Hollows Foundation and the International Federation of Ageing, calls for close collaboration between the eye health and ageing sectors to protect and restore vision in older age and address existing inequities. The report Connecting Healthy Ageing and Vision presents vision as instrumental to advancing healthy ageing by pinpointing the wide-ranging impacts of vision loss on individuals and society at large.
Losing sight means facing an increased risk of mortality, cognitive decline, falls, and depression. In addition, where environments are not accessible, it often means losing your independence, confining many older people to their home, and increasing social isolation and loneliness in later life. While many eye conditions become more common as people age, blindness is not an inevitable part of ageing. Every person should have the opportunity to live a long and healthy life.
Vietnam is a young country today that is ageing at a faster pace and at an earlier level of development than many other countries in the world. Projections indicate that over 25% of the population will be aged 60 years or older by 2050 from 11.9% in 2019. Action is therefore imperative for Vietnam to be able to reap the many benefits of this increased longevity, including needed efforts to improve the eye health of the growing older population.
In 2020, the cataract surgical rate in Vietnam was alarmingly low at 3,200 and falling far below the recommended range of 4,000-5,000 cataract surgeries per one million population annually. The growing ageing population exacerbates the urgency of addressing this unmet need.
Older people’s associations play a crucial role in community life in Vietnam, with 90% of individuals aged 60 years and older being members in Quang Nam province, located in central Vietnam. The Fred Hollows Foundation and partners kicked off a pilot project in this province to include eye care in intergenerational self-help clubs, which are a form of older people’s associations. This collaboration aims to raise awareness about eye care in the older population and improve the availability and access to eye care services, including screenings and examinations for eye conditions among the 5,220 members of self-help clubs and other older individuals in the community. Additionally, the project aims to provide 300 pairs of glasses and subsidise treatment for 500 cases of eye diseases. To ensure the sustainability of the project’s impact and its long-term scalability, a health program guideline is being developed to integrate eye care for older people into existing healthcare programmes. By fostering partnerships as well as cooperation among relevant stakeholders involved in eye care for older people, the project seeks to create a more comprehensive approach to protecting and restoring vision in the ageing population.
Addressing vision loss in older populations is a critical endeavour that requires concerted efforts from the ageing and eye health sectors. The Fred Hollows Foundation’s innovative projects, like the one in Vietnam, have integrated eye care into existing community structures and fostered collaboration among stakeholders. This approach enhances access to eye care services, improves treatment outcomes, and raises awareness about the importance of vision for healthy ageing, ultimately achieving the unmet needs of millions of older people with vision loss and empowering them to lead fulfilling and independent lives. We must act now to put an end to avoidable blindness in later life in order to ensure that current and future generations of older people can make the most of rising longevity.
The Connecting Healthy Ageing and Vision report can be accessed at https://www.hollows.org/au/latest/healthy-ageing