Prevalence and Causes of Visual Loss Among the Indigenous Peoples of the World: A Systematic Review

JAMA Ophthalmol. 2018 May 1;136(5):567-580. doi: 10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2018.0597.


Importance: Studies have documented a higher disease burden in indigenous compared with nonindigenous populations, but no global data on the epidemiology of visual loss in indigenous peoples are available. A systematic review of literature on visual loss in the world's indigenous populations could identify major gaps and inform interventions to reduce their burden of visual loss.

Objective: To conduct a systematic review on the prevalence and causes of visual loss among the world's indigenous populations.

Evidence review: A search of databases and alternative sources identified literature on the prevalence and causes of visual loss (visual impairment and blindness) and eye diseases in indigenous populations. Studies from January 1, 1990, through August 1, 2017, that included clinical eye examinations of indigenous participants and, where possible, compared findings with those of nonindigenous populations were included. Methodologic quality of studies was evaluated to reveal gaps in the literature.

Findings: Limited data were available worldwide. A total of 85 articles described 64 unique studies from 24 countries that examined 79 598 unique indigenous participants. Nineteen studies reported comparator data on 42 085 nonindigenous individuals. The prevalence of visual loss was reported in 13 countries, with visual impairment ranging from 0.6% in indigenous Australian children to 48.5% in native Tibetans 50 years or older. Uncorrected refractive error was the main cause of visual impairment (21.0%-65.1%) in 5 of 6 studies that measured presenting visual acuity. Cataract was the main cause of visual impairment in all 6 studies measuring best-corrected acuity (25.4%-72.2%). Cataract was the leading cause of blindness in 13 studies (32.0%-79.2%), followed by uncorrected refractive error in 2 studies (33.0% and 35.8%).

Conclusions and relevance: Most countries with indigenous peoples do not have data on the burden of visual loss in these populations. Although existing studies vary in methodologic quality and reliability, they suggest that most visual loss in indigenous populations is avoidable. Improvements in quality and frequency of research into the eye health of indigenous communities appear to be required, and coordinated eye care programs should be implemented to specifically target the indigenous peoples of the world.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Blindness / epidemiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Databases, Factual
  • Global Health
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Population Groups / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prevalence
  • Racial Groups
  • Risk Factors
  • Vision, Low / epidemiology*
  • Visual Acuity
  • Visually Impaired Persons / statistics & numerical data*