Professor Matthew Burton

Eye health is quite low-down in the list of priorities of the global health system, currently there are an estimated 1.1 billion people worldwide who have unaddressed visual impairment and in addition another billon people have an eye condition that has been addressed but continue to need eye health services from time to time. For example, I like many other people wear glasses which enable me to see well and do my work; I continue to need to have my glasses renewed every few years. There are many hundreds of millions of people who currently do not have access to glasses – which can make it difficult for them to do even the simplest work.

The Lancet Commission on Global Eye Health makes the case that caring for population eye health is a matter of national importance. Visual impairment contributes to the spread of poverty and mental health problems. The governments should help people see better, including but not limited to glasses and cataract surgery.

Addressing vision problems must be a national priority, and governments need to invest in eye health care, from school screening programs to identify children in need of glasses to eye screenings for older people at convenient locations.

In many countries, the non-governmental sector makes a key contribution to the development of ophthalmology. The pharmaceutical industry’s investments in high technology and innovation have resulted in effective solutions for 80–90% of vision problems. In my opinion, governments should be actively involved in the management of this system, to monitor the fair cost of drugs and treatment. The task of the government is to create a policy and regulatory framework that places public health above the desire to make a profit, while at the same time supporting the interest of private business in innovation.

The cooperation between the government and business can help to effectively address vision problems on which the health and well-being of the population and the development depend. The Commission’s authors urge national governments to consider clear evidence in favour of concentrated action to improve eye health worldwide.