OPC Spotlight: Refractive Errors

Did you know that uncorrected refractive error is the most common cause of vision impairment and is the second leading cause of blindness globally? Uncorrected refractive errors affect 671 million people worldwide.


What are Uncorrected Refractive Errors?

Refractive errors are classified as eye disorders caused by irregularity in the shape of a person’s eye. The irregular shape makes it difficult for the eyes to focus images clearly, and so vison can become blurred and impaired.

Refractive errors include myopia (short-sightedness or near-sightedness), hyperopia (far-sightedness), astigmatism and presbyopia.

  • Myopia is a common refractive error that occurs when the eye does not correctly refract light towards a single focal point to see images clearly. When a person is nearsighted, they can see objects better up close than far away.
  • Hyperopia is a common refractive error where a person can see objects in the distance very well while having difficulty focusing on objects up close. 
  • Astigmatism is a refractive error caused by an irregularly curved cornea, meaning that images do not form “on” the retina but instead in front of or behind it, distorting the image.
  • Presbyopia is a normal aging condition where the eye is no longer able to focus at close range because of a loss of flexibility in the eye’s lens.


  • 161 million people live with distance vision impairment or blindness.
  • 510 million people live with near vision impairment.


How Are Refractive Errors Treated?

If you have ever had an eye exam and wear glasses, you have been tested and treated for a refractive error.

To test for a refractive error, ophthalmologists conduct an eye exam to determine how badly the patient’s vision is affected. This usually involves the person reading letters or symbols from a chart. Then, a diagnosis is made based on the exam results.

Treatments to correct refractive errors include prescription glasses, contact lenses, or in some extreme cases, surgery.


Why is Investing in Correcting Refractive Errors Important? 

While uncorrected refractive errors are not life-threatening disorders, they are particularly problematic in developing countries where they can have an out-sized impact on socio-economic circumstances of communities. 

The people affected may not be able to afford the needed vision exams or glasses to help improve their vision. With impaired vision, performance at school or ability to work can suffer, leading to potentially lasting, negative consequences that perpetuate the cycle of poverty in vulnerable communities. 

For those living in rural areas, access to eye care, including access to qualified eye health care professionals, is an additional challenge. In the areas of Francophone Africa where OPC works, the majority of ophthalmologists and optometrists are based in cities, leaving a shortage of trained eye care professionals working in the more rural areas. 


How OPC Fights Uncorrected Refractive Errors

At OPC, we know that reducing and correcting refractive errors are an essential part of providing sustainable comprehensive eye care services. Together with our partners and donors, OPC ensures that uncorrected refractive error is addressed in our comprehensive eye care programs throughout Francophone Africa.

This includes:

  • Training health professionals at the different levels of the health system.
  • Improving existing infrastructures.
  • Improving the referral system.
  • Establishing mechanisms that will guarantee quality and sustainability of eye health care program.
  • Focusing on the prevention of eye diseases through education and awareness.


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