This unspoken mantra of ‘it costs money to help’ haunts every government in every country, but in some cases, it’s simply not true. Following on from World Sight Day, which took place on 8 October, I’d like to share the secret of how to help people and boost the economy at the same time.
The loss to the global economy has been estimated to be US$244 billion per year from uncorrected myopia (nearsightedness, including that caused by cataracts) and $25.4 billion per year from unaddressed presbyopia (short-sightedness due to age). Around one billion people are affected by these treatable conditions. That’s a lot of people, and a lot of money.
The losses come from a range of causes, including reduced productivity in industries where good vision makes a difference, and the simple fact that if children can’t see properly but are never tested, they won’t reach their full potential and contribute to society. The human cost is of course huge too, and occupies all of us who work in this field, but for now let’s focus on the maths.
The cost of treating this one billion people is estimated to be between $7 billion and $14 billion. That sounds a lot in isolation, but not when compared to the roughly £270 billion losses mentioned above.
There are plenty of examples to back this up. A 2017 study in Assam, India. examined whether giving a pair of glasses to workers picking tea would improve their productivity. It did – by around 25%. For governments looking to boost their economy, the prospect of scaling up this figure should be very tempting.
This impact has also been recognised by the World Bank, which reported that routine cataract surgery is one of the most cost-effective public health interventions. In other words, it’s a win-win.