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We must set our sights on vision correction for all

26 September 2022

As the UK sets out its vision for post-covid recovery, it must first acknowledge an uncomfortable reality. Two years on from the mass cancellation of healthcare services and twelve months since lockdowns ended, we are only now beginning to understand the consequences of the pandemic on the public’s broader health.

According to a report published by Specsavers and Deloitte, 2,986 patients in the UK lost their sight due to delayed sight tests, referrals, and surgeries during the pandemic. What’s more, the rise of screen time and close-range activities in response to lockdown restrictions sparked an increase in the prevalence of myopia. Not only has the pandemic overshadowed eye health, it has actively worsened it. 

However, this is not merely a health problem. Poor vision has staggering repercussions on academic attainment, economic capacity, and personal well-being. 

Whilst the temporary suspension of eye health services was understandable during the lockdown, the government no longer has an excuse to overlook the significance of vision correction.

Faced with the fallout from the pandemic, global instability and a looming recession, many will no doubt argue that national vision care is far from urgent. But this would be a gross oversight. In 2019 alone, sight loss and blindness cost the UK £36 billion. Deloitte’s research estimates that the recent delays in tests and treatments could lead to an additional £50.4 million in expenses each year between 2021 and 2024, compared to pre-COVID costs. Evidently, the failure to account for adequate vision treatment costs more than just clear vision.

Eyecare should be considered a crucial enabler of – rather than a distraction from – efforts to rebuild the economy following the pandemic. 

As my own research attests, improved vision is a key factor in boosting productivity and, in turn, economic growth. In 2018, we completed the first randomised controlled trial in collaboration with VisionSpring and Orbis, which measured the quantity and quality of tea picking among 750 workers in Assam, India. The transformative impact of glasses was evident. Vision correction increased productivity rates by an average of 21%, equating to an extra day per work week. In fact, the study provided empirical evidence that the effect of glasses on productivity is greater than any other medical treatment. 

Particularly as governments look to kickstart growth, they must acknowledge the power of vision care in boosting efficiency and driving economic progress. The simple intervention of glasses – a 700–year-old technological innovation – could vastly improve the success of businesses and the capabilities of individuals.

Certainly, the neglect of eye health, in conjunction with other post-Covid economic challenges, is by no means limited to the UK. With the World Economic Forum warning that the pandemic has plunged an additional 95 million into extreme poverty, improved vision care is now crucial in protecting global development. Clear vision underpins at least six of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and is key to ensuring good health, decent work, gender equality and eliminating poverty. 

Even before the pandemic, low and middle-income countries accounted for nearly 90% of global vision loss. These nations now face twice the challenge of remedying this growing inequality with even more limited access to eyecare and correction. 

Governments around the world must now galvanise the political will to prioritise vision care. It needs to be considered an urgent intervention that will revive the global economy, address inequalities, and ultimately improve the quality of life for millions. Public bodies must collaborate with the private sector to accelerate commercial and infrastructural solutions. The united support of NGOs, global authorities, and specialists from the technology, business, and healthcare sectors is crucial to understand the scale of the issue and develop the most effective means to address it. 

The staggering potential of glasses has been staring us in the face for over 700 years. At last, we must set our sights on eradicating vision loss for all.