Annual Review 2023

Global eyecare mission

CERA is working alongside the World Health Organization (WHO) to help more people in Australia and the world understand vision, monitor their sight and look out for disease.


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Since CERA and Ophthalmology at the University of Melbourne were first granted WHO Collaborating Centre Status in 1992, the organisation has played an important role in promoting and supporting eye health globally. 

“At CERA, we get to do amazing research – and we have a duty as researchers to ensure everyone benefits from those outcomes,” says Dr Katerina Kiburg, Deputy Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for the Prevention of Blindness at CERA. 

Previous collaborations with WHO have included the development of cataract services guidelines, eye health action plans and sharing CERA-developed technology across the world.  

The latest efforts to come from this collaboration rely on the ubiquity of technology to make monitoring vision easier and to increase understanding of the impacts of myopia. 

Improving eyecare access

The WHOEyes smartphone app – developed by CERA and released on World Sight Day in 2023 – is designed to provide people anywhere in the world, particularly in developing countries, with a convenient way to test their vision. 

WHOEyes works by displaying symbols like an optometrist’s eye chart, which the user responds to check how well their long and short distance vision is. 

The app can detect the distance between the user and the smartphone to make sure measurements are accurate. 

Users can record their results so they can compare how their vision changes over time and guide them as to whether they need to see a healthcare professional. 

“Now anyone with a smartphone can download the free WHOEyes app and accurately test their long or short distance vision wherever they are,” says Associate Professor Lisa Zhuoting Zhu, Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for the Prevention of Blindness and Lead Researcher of Ophthalmic Epidemiology at CERA. 

While the app isn’t a replacement for regular vision tests, Dr Zhu says it can play an important role in helping people monitor their vision.  

“Depending on a person’s test results, the app may recommend they see an eyecare professional,” she says. 

The app is designed to be particularly useful in remote communities or developing countries where people need to travel a long way to see an eyecare professional. 

“While Australia generally has great access to eyecare professionals, many countries don’t,” says Dr Zhu. 

“We also made the app available in six languages to ensure more people around the world can test their eyes, which is a very big step ahead.” 

Myopia awareness

CERA and WHO have also been collaborating towards making sure more people are aware of how simple changes in lifestyle can help reduce myopia in children.  

Myopia, also known as short-sightedness, is when the shape of the eye leads to blurry vision of things that are far away. 

While it can be easily corrected by glasses or contact lenses, if it isn’t addressed early, it can impact a child’s education. 

Very high levels of myopia have also been associated with other, more serious eye conditions later in life. 

Around 6.3 million people in Australia alone have myopia, and a more severe form called high myopia is on the rise. 

Dr Zhu says it’s important to help Australians understand how myopia can have a significant impact. 

“Most people think myopia is only about short sightedness, but high myopia can contribute to complications later in life that can lead to irreversible vision loss,” says Dr Zhu. 

Dr Kiburg says there is a lot of evidence suggesting myopia can be impacted by lifestyle. 

“Among children, spending more time doing things like reading or using a computer while also spending less time outdoors has been associated with higher rates of myopia,” says Dr Kiburg. 

To address this, the team implemented a local version of WHO’s myopia awareness campaign to help more people understand how small lifestyle changes can contribute to improving how myopia is managed. 

Dr Kiburg says the team knew social media was the way to drive their myopia messages to Australians and developed a free factsheet with simple tips to encourage healthy behaviours. 

“Sharing quick and easy insights, such as spending at least 90 minutes outdoors every day, is something easy for people to work into their daily lives.

“And getting kids to get into that practice early is important.” 


This story was originally published in People in focus: Annual Review 2023.

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