It’s no secret that the global prevalence of myopia is on the rise.
It’s a trend that has implications for all of us, everywhere. By 2050, myopia will affect nearly five billion people, with one billion of those affected by high myopia. These people are children in schools, drivers on the road, and workers at their jobs – all necessary contributors to a well-functioning economy.
With the global economy dependent on worker productivity, the impact of myopia on this sector of the population is worth investigating. A recent Systematic Review, supported by the Vision Impact Institute and the Brien Holden Vision Institute and led by Professor Kovin Naidoo, Senior VP, 2.5 NVG Inclusive Business, Philanthropy and Social Impact for Essilor, uncovered some interesting results regarding the connection between myopia and productivity.
We caught up with him to understand why the results of this study matter for our future economies and societies.
VII: Why did you decide to undertake this Systematic Review?
Naidoo: While our previous research addressed the economic impact of Uncorrected Refractive Error (URE), the increase in the prevalence of myopia means our projections have become outdated. Furthermore, there was a specific need for an economic projection that specifically addresses the changes due to myopia.
VII: The myopia epidemic is gaining attention. Why was it important to investigate the issue from an economic standpoint?
Naidoo: There’s a lot of information available on the prevalence of myopia and its clinical management. This type of information mainly captures the attention of researchers and clinicians and, in some cases, parents. Because policymakers and the private sector are often inundated with other health crises, the topic of myopia is not always on their radar. I believe that contextualizing the myopia crisis within an economic framework speaks to both government and the private sector’s interests. This paper serves as a great evidence-based advocacy tool.
VII: You have been a strong voice on myopia as a public health issue. How does talking about myopia in terms of economics change the conversation and resulting action on the topic?
Naidoo: In my opinion, it can broaden the scope of those willing to engage and act on the myopia crisis. We must ensure, at all costs, that myopia is not seen as a narrow patient or clinical issue, but an issue that impacts the interests of broader society that can limit the ability to learn and work. Linking an economic cost to the impact makes it an even stronger case.
Civil society and the private sector can do a lot, but we need policy changes from governments, and this type of data helps us make the case.
VII: Since myopia is not just a health issue, how can different entities in government work to address the issue across ministries?
Naidoo: A good example is to think about myopia’s impact on children’s ability to learn. This would mean that both the education ministry and the health ministry have a vested interest in working together to ensure that children have access to regular eye exams and that correction is provided for those who cannot afford it.
VII: What role do you see for places of work as a result of these findings?
Naidoo: Encouraging greater access to eye health insurance would be a great start. However, we know from experience that availability does not result in uptake. So encouraging employees to seek regular eye exams would be a good investment too, as this will ensure that workers are able to work to the best of their ability.
VII: What action would you like to see as a result of this study – whether from companies or countries?
Naidoo: The first win would be policy change from countries, so that screening and provision of eye exams for children becomes compulsory. These efforts, together with efforts to provide access to spectacles for all children, especially those whose parents cannot afford it, could make a huge difference for children from the start. We know that early intervention is imperative.
Companies should invest in the eye health of their workers and provide eye health insurance for their entire families. I don’t think this should be treated as an optional aspect of health plans.
VII: Why do these results matter?
Naidoo: They highlight not just the existing problem, but also opportunities. The findings show the savings to society from investing in myopia control and also highlight health promotion strategies that can make a difference. For example, strategies that encourage people to spend time outdoors have been shown to slow the progression of myopia.
VII: What do you predict will happen if little or no action is taken as a result of this work?
Naidoo: We’re heading for one of the biggest public health crises of our time. As societies feel the impact of high myopia – permanent vision loss and blindness, the cost and the socioeconomic impact on individuals is going to be devastating. The eye care profession has been a spectator in many other global health crises such as HIV, Tuberculosis, etc. This is one time that, if we don’t do anything, history is going to judge our relevance very harshly. We have to stand up and be accountable, not only for our sake but for the sake of future generations.