Improving Eye Care in Austere and Remote Environments
According to the World Health Organization, over 2.2 billion people suffer from some form of visual impairment, and over half of these cases could have been prevented and or addressed.1 The development of visual impairments is guaranteed with age, and the most common and most easily treated of these are uncorrected refractive errors and visually significant cataracts. The annual global productivity loss due to visual impairments is estimated to cost over $408 billion US Dollars.2
Unaddressed visual impairments disproportionately affect developing regions, rural areas, and marginalized communities worldwide. Barriers to access to care in these communities include:
Shortage of trained eyecare workers in areas of need
Perceived required cost of equipment/infrastructure
Poor eye health literacy in low socioeconomic groups
Patient costs to access eye care
Fortunately, there are many organizations and individuals working to break down these barriers. Remote Area Medical brings mobile optometry clinics and optical labs to serve rural communities across the United States. The Department of Defense partners with underserved communities to deliver care while providing readiness training opportunities for its military personnel. Non-profits such as Brien Holden Vision Institute out of Australia are establishing optometry schools in developing countries to address the shortage of local eye care professionals. SEE International trains ophthalmologists in Manual Small Incision Cataract Surgery (MSICS) techniques and brings the most efficient cataract surgery clinics to over 40 countries worldwide. ODOCS in New Zealand is innovating mobile technologies to improve the delivery of care. There is still much work to be done in improving the access to eye care, but the future is looking bright.