Visual impairment costs the global population $268.8 billion in productivity, according to an analysis in the June 2009 Bulletin of the World Health Organization.

In order to calculate the cost of each case of visual impairment, authors assumed that each visually impaired person required some assistance from a non-visually impaired person and impacted the economy in two waysless income for him- or herself (estimated at 10%) and lessening the income of the person giving assistance (estimated at 5%). For each country, total cases of visual impairment due to uncorrected refractive error were determined by prevalence across age groups and compared with the population and economic data for each location.

When calculated across each world region in the analysis, this resulted in an unadjusted global productivity loss of $427.7 billionbut, when adjustment is made for labor force participation rate and employment rate for each country, this number is resolved at $268.8 billion.

Researchers note that, when mapping out areas with high rates of visual impairment, the distribution of cases correlates with distribution of cost and lost productivity. The Western Pacific region demonstrates the highest cost: nearly $111 billion (adjusted). The productivity losses in African and Eastern Mediterranean regions were the smallest, at nearly $3.5 billion each.

Based on existing disability weights, the productivity loss estimates presented here suggest that the current burden of [uncorrected refractive error] has a potentially greater impact on the global economy than all other preventable disorders, write the authors. The estimates calculated in our study highlight the potential economic significance of this global burden.

Smith TST, Frick KD, Holden BA, et al. Potential lost productivity resulting from the global burden of uncorrected refractive error. Bull World Health Organ 2009 Jun;87(6):431-7.

Vol. No: 146:07Issue: 7/15/2009