[TECH 3501] Visual Impairment around the Globe

In last blog post, we talked about visual impairment in Malaysia context. Well, Stevens is far from alone in his experience with blindness.

The LATEST report released by World Health Organization (WHO) during World Sight Day 2018 estimates that a total of 1.3 billion people are living with some form of distance or near vision impairment and 36 million of them are entirely blind.

Around 1.4 million children are blind. The major causes of blindness in children include cataract, retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), and vitamin A deficiency. Approximately half of all childhood blindness can be avoided or treated.

28% of people living with moderate and severe visual impairment are in their working years. Visual limitations impact the ability of working people to conduct a productive life. This impacts their ability to find employment and support themselves and provide for their families.

82% of all people with blindness are over 50 years old. This number is expected to increase with the world’s population aging. The leading cause of blindness for these people is cataract which is a curable condition.

Good news is 80% of the 1.3 billion visual impairments can be prevented or readily treated with known and cost-effective interventions if people have access to the right information and treatment options. Bad news is many do not. This is what Stevens is striving to change in Malaysia.

And there are a lot of international community media that aim to raise awareness for the visually impaired people (the VIPs) as well as working towards making eye health a population health imperative.

Consequences of Visual Impairment

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), restoring sight is one of the most cost-effective health interventions to reduce poverty – Vision Aid Overseas UK

As explained by Teaching Students with Visual Impairments, visual impairment may present from birth (congenital) or some loss of sights are acquired later in life (adventitious). Although the level of struggles vary, blindness or severe visual handicap can affect all areas of development which ultimately lead to economic and social problems.

I was particularly staggered by the insights shared in Unite for Sight research.

“Poverty and blindness are believed to be intimately linked, with poverty predisposing to blindness, and blindness exacerbating poverty by limiting employment opportunities, or by incurring treatment cost. For example, a study conducted in Pakistan found that the prevalence of total blindness was more than three times higher in poor clusters of the population than in affluent clusters.”

“However, it is important to realise that blindness may also cause people to become poor. For instance, a review on poverty and its consequences found that although some individuals become disabled because of low income, a shocking 64% of those with disabilities were not in poverty prior to onset of the disability. Households affected by disability, and which were not initially impoverished, had three times the probability of entering into poverty within one year of onset of disability compared with unaffected households. Households affected by disability also had a lower probability of leaving poverty because of the increased costs and reduced earnings associated with disability.”


Envision Disabilities 2030 with UNSDGs

In September 2015, the General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Pledging on “leaving no one behind”, the new Agenda emphasises a holistic approach to achieving sustainable development for all. In other words, 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development holds a deep promise for persons with disabilities everywhere.

Imagine the world in 2030, fully inclusive of persons with disabilities. – United Nations – Disabilities

It was stated that the SDGs explicitly include disability and persons with disabilities 11 times, specifically in the parts related to equality in education, employment, accessibility of human settlements and more. Though the word “disability” is not cited directly in all goals, the goals are indeed relevant to ensure the inclusion and development of persons with disabilities.

(For better quality of infographics, please visit here.)

When one thinks of the work of the United Nations for persons with disabilities, the International Day of Disabled Persons on 3rd of December, usually come to mind – which I have mentioned in my previous post about petition towards Malaysia’s Disabilities Act 2008.

The annual observance aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

This year’s theme focuses on empowering persons with disabilities for an inclusive, equitable and sustainable development as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The 2030 Agenda pledges to “leave no one behind”.

Persons with disabilities, as both beneficiaries and agents of change, can fast track the process towards inclusive and sustainable development and promote resilient society for all, including in the context of disaster risk reduction and humanitarian action, and urban development. – United Nations.

As part of the planning for International Community Media EXPO happening next year, I have investigated different community media projects that advocate for the VIPs. I have divided my survey into two sections as you can read below: a) International context and b) In the UK context.

This is to provide an overview of community development projects in various prospects and scales. Also, to spark inspirations for the EXPO’s planning. 


International Community Development Projects: Acting towards Global Visual Impairments

Global Action Plan

Global Action Plan (2014-2019) launched by WHO and International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) aims to achieve a global reduction of avoidable visual impairments of 25% by 2019. Detailed report can be viewed here.

The action plan was guided by a larger global initiative known as Vision 2020: The Right to Sight which was established in 1999 with the twin aims of (a) eliminating avoidable blindness by the year 2020; (b) preventing the projected doubling of avoidable visual impairment between 1990 and 2020.

Vision 2020: The Right to Sight sought to promote “A world in which nobody is needlessly visually impaired, where those with unavoidable vision loss can achieve their full potential.” – IAPB

Following the Global Action Plan, WHO works with Member States and international partners to eliminate the main causes of avoidable blindness, focusing on priority chronic diseases (cataract, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, Age-related Macular Degeneration, refractive errors) and visual rehabilitation. These are done though providing direct technical assistance, piloting innovative approaches, support in monitoring and ensuring global coordination.

World Sight Day

World Sight Day (WSD), another initiative by WHO, is an annual day of awareness held on the second Thursday of October, to focus global attention on blindness and vision impairment. In 2017, WSD with the theme “Make Vision Count” was remarkable in not just how WHO and IAPB had new data on global blindness and visual impairment, but also because of the record number of events that the organisations managed to collect. You may view the activities report here.

WSD 2017 celebrations happened in 115 countries with 608 events in total (compared to the 92 countries in 2016).

At the same time, the #MakeVisionCount photo competition received close to 1200 submissions and all the images are up on Flickr albums – which really amazed me!


UK and Leicester: Community Development Projects for Unnecessary Blindness

According to National Eye Research Centre, 2 million people in the UK are living with sight loss, that is severe enough to have a significant impact on their daily lives. Half of this sight loss is avoidable. A sight test can detect early signs of conditions like glaucoma, which can be treated if found soon enough. Research is the only way that new treatments for eye disease, sight loss and blindness can be discovered yet, of all the money that is spent on medical research in the UK, only 2% is directed at eye disease. Below are some development and aid organisations in the UK which approached visual impairment issues locally, regionally and internationally.

Vision Aid Overseas (incorporating Optometry Giving Sights in the UK)

With the vision lies closely with UNSDGs – “No one lives in poverty because of poor eyesight; no one lives with poor eyesight because of poverty” – Vision Aid Overseas has been helping some of the world’s poorest people to see clearly for over 30 years by enabling people living in poverty to access affordable glasses and eye care.

Working on the model “Donate, Recycle and Transform”, the organisation generates income from donated second-hand glasses to deliver sustainable eye care services, trainings and educations in its partner countries, including UK, India and across Africa.


The most recent work by Vision Aid Overseas is Christmas Appeal that sought to “deliver school-based eye health services to over 180,000 school children in Ethiopia, Zambia and Sierra Leone” with the targeted £50,000 donations.

You may find Vision Aid Overseas in Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Youtube.

Vista Leicester

As one of the oldest and largest local charities in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, Vista worked with children and adults with sight loss for over 150 years. The organisation provides a wide array of services and aid programmes for visual impairment and deafblind people. Amongst all that grabbed my attention is the “Talking Newspaper”.

Vista produces and records over 70,000 talking newspapers in English, Gujarati and Punjabi in one year, all sent out free of charge to people registered with sight loss across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. Vista’s audio content features local articles from Leicester Mercury and Monthly Newsline– ranging from news, entertainment, current affairs, lifestyle and specialist news – keeping the isolated community up-to-date with what happened in their areas. The podcasts can be posted to the member on a CD or memory stick, or people can listen to and download the talking newspapers from Audioboom.

You may find Vista Leicetser in Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.