Over 1 Billion People At Risk Of Blindness By 2050

First Posted: Oct 09, 2015 01:31 PM EDT

Over one billion people could be at risk of blindness by the middle of the century due to an eye disease known as myopia (shortsightedness), according to researchers at the Brien Holden Vision Institute in Australia.

The researchers predict that almost 5 billion people – about half of the world's population – will be myopic, and about one billion of them will be in the myopic category with a high risk of blindness, if behavioral interventions and optical treatments are not developed and implemented, the researchers revealed in a news release.

Currently, more than 2 billion people in the world suffer from myopia.

"Firstly, the public must be made aware that this threat exists. Secondly, we need researchers and public health practitioners to develop effective solutions. Thirdly, eye care professionals need to be better equipped to manage patients at risk," said Professor Kovin Naidoo, Acting CEO, Brien Holden Vision Institute.

Myopia is a common eye disease in urban areas in East Asian countries, such as China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan. However, of late, western countries have had increasing rates of myopia. In the United States, over the past 30 years, myopia has increased from 25 percent in the 1970s, to 42 percent in 2004. The vast levels of myopia, which lead to high risks of potential blindness and vision impairment, are the researchers' main concerns.

"Myopia is not curable or reversible, but there are promising interventions using optical and behavioural approaches that can help slow the progression and prevent people becoming highly myopic," said Naidoo.

The institute is urging parents and teachers to encourage their children to spend more time outdoors for at least two hours each day, and to avoid using electronic devices, which requires them to focus close up for long periods. Children should be screened for vision problems at regular intervals in order to detect early symptoms.

"The institute is working with the private sector to develop a myopia management program to ensure that there is a comprehensive management of patients including health promotion and clinical interventions, Naidoo said.

"Myopia is a concern for all people of all ages, but not just today, this is a generational commitment we must make."

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