Being blind in a pandemic creates all kinds of problems. Social distancing, and the 6 feet (2 metre) rule, is not so easy if you cannot see. Those of us who are blind rely on other senses, like our hearing or touch, to compensate. That’s not so easy either if we are isolated from each other. Disruption to health services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is also threatening the gains made in rehabilitation services for those who are blind and visually impaired. Additionally, lockdown measures have the potential to exacerbate poor eye health: sustained near focusing on screens and reduced exposure to natural daylight are known risk factors for progressive myopia, and reduced physical activity could affect the progression of diabetes and the onset of diabetic retinopathy.
The Lancet Global Health Commission on Global Eye Health reminds us that, in 2020, an estimated 43·3 million people were blind, 553 million people had vision impairment, and 510 million had uncorrected presbyopia. If those numbers are not shocking in themselves, we must note that these are not simply statistics, these are real people grappling with common issues of daily living, mobility, mental health, and social interaction unless intervention arrives. Impaired vision and eye health have a broad impact on general health and wellbeing—eg, through reduced access to health care, increased cardiovascular disease through limitations on physical activity, and exacerbating depression and dementia.