Vision impairment and blindness have been significantly associated with high medical care expenditures, decrease in health utility, and loss or reduction of productivity. The objective of this study was to assess the humanistic and economic burden of blindness in a Brazilian sample from a societal perspective.
Cross-sectional, observational, and multicenter study enrolling individuals with blindness (defined as the best corrected visual acuity less than 6/60 in the better-seeing eye) caused by retinal disorders. Data collection was performed between December 2012 and December 2014 through face-to-face interview using a structured questionnaire and three standardized patient-reported outcomes instruments. Direct costs were estimated by multiplying the amount of resources used (12-month recall period) by the corresponding unit cost. Productivity losses were measured using the human capital method. All data were collected in Brazilian real (BRL) and converted to United States dollar (USD), using the exchange rate of 1 USD = 3.0415 BRL (May 7, 2015).
A total of 146 subjects from 17 research sites were included with a mean age of 68 (SD = 14.8) years and equal gender distribution. Blindness negatively affected both general and vision-specific health-related quality of life. One-half of patients presented some level of anxiety and depression; of these, about 50% with moderate or severe symptoms. Around one-third of subjects (34.2%) reported at least one fall in the previous 12 months due to vision impairment; of these subjects, 14% reported fractures. Emergency room visits and hospitalization were reported by around 25% and 5% of subjects, respectively. The short-term costs (annual costs) of severe vision impairment or blindness for the studied subjects was USD 128,389.09 (USD 879.37 per person). Total medical direct costs summed USD 116,182.00 (USD 795.77 per person), 61.7% of which was due to outpatient visits (with physicians and other healthcare professionals). The long-term costs (lifetime productivity loss) totalized USD 1,962,599.50 (USD 13,442.47 per person).
This study demonstrated that blindness imposes both humanistic and economic burden for individuals and for Brazilian society. It also pointed out that there is room to improve blindness management, especially for the poorest people, including health education for individuals, availability of services, and reduction of barriers to patients’ access to healthcare assistance. This was a good starting point; however, further research is needed.