50. Loss of Vision and Hearing


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Ray Witlin/The World Bank

Vision and hearing impairments contribute to early death and are important causes of morbidity for individuals who are blind or deaf. While cost–effective interventions are available to address several causes of these burdens, there has been limited analysis of these interventions in developing countries.

Worldwide, more than 161 million people are visually impaired. Of these, 36.8 million are blind. The least developed regions carry the largest share of the burden. An estimated 255 million people have disabling hearing loss, almost 4.1 percent of the world's population.

Effective interventions for vision loss include cataract and other surgeries, vitamin A supplementation, antibiotics to control infections, cleanliness, and environmental improvements. Effective interventions for hearing loss include screening programs, education, surgery, medications, and assistive devices.

Based on what is known about cost–effective interventions, the burden of disease associated with vision loss could be significantly reduced. For example, clearing the backlog of cataract surgery globally could reduce the disability–adjusted life years associated with vision loss by more than half. The means of reducing the burden of adult–onset hearing loss are less straightforward, but eliminating hearing loss would avoid slightly more years of life with disability than eliminating the cataract surgery backlog.

Data suggest that these interventions (particularly cataract surgery) are relatively cost–effective, but factors such as lack of funding, understanding, and political will remain barriers to alleviating disabilities related to vision and hearing loss.