NASEM declares eye health a public health imperative
In order to avoid a public health crisis and keep up with increasing vision loss among the aging baby-boomer generation, correctable vision impairments must be eliminated by 2030, according to a report issued by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM).
“Vision loss and visual impairment is a major public health problem,” said Rohit Varma, MD, MPH, report committee member, and chairman, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles. “In setting this high bar, the committee wanted to stimulate innovative ways on how to use the available resources more wisely.”
Among other recommendations, the “Making Eye Health a Population Imperative: Vision for Tomorrow” report recommends that the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issue a call-to-action nationwide to increase public awareness of the impending crisis should vision and eye health not be taken more seriously on a local, state, and federal level.
The report is a result of a 1.5-year consensus study with committee members representing ophthalmology, optometry, and public health sectors.
The authors acknowledge the public view of eye care is something that may often be taken for granted.
"Avoidable vision impairment occurs too frequently in the United States and is the logical result of a series of outdated assumptions, missed opportunities, and manifold shortfalls in public health policy and health care delivery," they said. "As a chronic condition, vision impairment remains notably absent from many public health agendas and community programs. Rather, vision is often regarded as a given—until it is not."
Although precise data are not available for the number of people with undiagnosed or uncorrected vision impairment, one model estimates more than 142 million Americans over the age of 40 have vision problems and 8 to 16 million Americans are believed to have uncorrected refractive errors.
“We have an absolute lack of a comprehensible, sustainable, implemented, and funded surveillance system for vision loss and eye disease in the United States,” Dr. Varma said.
The committee predicts that the absence of nationwide efforts to improve eye care could result in a doubling of uncorrectable vision impairments by 2050. This increase of vision impairments could also negatively amplify the effects of other non-eye-related chronic illnesses. It also negatively effects quality of life, independence, and psychological well-being.