Sight Loss Groups Call for National Vision Strategy on World Sight Day

Issued by VISPA, AOI and ICO,Thursday, October 8th World Sight Day 2009.

The leading providers of services to people with sight loss and blindness have today, on World Sight Day 2009, called for the Government to work together with them to develop and implement a National Vision Strategy for Ireland.

The groups said that Ireland can no longer afford to wait for an imminent vision health crisis before embracing the need to plan for curative and rehabilitation services around eye health and sight loss.

It is known that there are currently 14,000 people blind and visually impaired in the country. This number swells by at least 30,000 if reduced vision due to the wearing of incorrect lenses is taken into account. According to international prediction models, the number of blind people aged 55 years and over is estimated to increase by 170% between 2006 and 2031 and the number of visually impaired people is estimated to grow by 180%.

Today, on World Sight Day 2009, members of VISPA (which includes NCBI, Fighting Blindness, The Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind and ChildVision - National Education Centre for Blind Children) together with the Association of Optometrists Ireland and the Irish College of Ophthalmologists announced that they are submitting a case to Government in which key eye health, rehabilitation and research bodies would work, with Government, towards developing a first-ever quantification and cost of visual impairment in Ireland.

The aim of this is to move towards providing for service delivery in a cost effective model which meets with all the criteria of internal good practice and offers real value for money going forward.

The spokesperson for the groups, Des Kenny, said: "These forecasts of future growth in problems around eye health and blindness are based upon modelling using other international studies, however the level of visual impairment and cost of providing for eye health and rehabilitation services associated with sight loss in Ireland has never been properly quantified.

The first step is for the current data in all our national eye units to be joined up within a common standard. The second step is to quantify and cost eye health and its associated rehabilitation around sight loss.

With more detailed information, eye health interventions (which include all operations in our eye hospitals and regional ophthalmology units) could be planned in a more cost effective manner."

A National Vision Strategy would save Money in the Long Term.

Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon at the Mater Hospital Professor Colm O'Brien said: "Strategic investment in screening for and early treatment of sight-threatening Diabetic Retinopathy and the provision of regular eye examinations to detect early signs of Cataract, Glaucoma and Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) would significantly reduce sight loss in the over 55s and in doing so would reduce the costs of treatments, the cost of care and the impact on the health services from injuries and accidents associated with severely reduced vision.

Using comparisons with the UK and Canada, where comprehensive studies have been carried out, the financial cost of vision loss in Ireland is between €140m and €280m " and it is forecast that this annual cost will almost double over the next 20 years.

Government Needs to Meet VISION 2020 Commitments

The call for the development of a National Vision Strategy, follows the Irish Government's commitment to VISION 2020 in 2003 - a global resolution on the development and implementation of plans to tackle vision impairment led by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In signing up to VISION 2020, in 2003, the Government was agreeing to establish a National Coordinating Committee to help develop and implement a vision plan by 2007. To date no co-ordinating committee has been established.

As of October 2008, 118 WHO member states had reported the establishment of a national committee. However, the Irish government has not established a committee, strategy or vision policy.

The groups acknowledged the State's investment in eye treatment and health but said that this needs to be co-ordinated and delivered against a National Vision Strategy.

The groups said that for more than 70 years, Ireland's vision rehabilitation needs have been met largely by charitable organisations. While significant state funds are provided to some of these organisations, collectively their capacity to deliver vision loss rehabilitation services throughout Ireland depends on the success of fundraising and the generosity of individuals.

The organisations added that on World Sight Day 2009 it is important that people are aware of what they can do to reduce their risk of sight loss. "Aside from getting corrective lenses if they need them, people should have eye examinations regularly. Adults and younger people need to be made aware of the danger of smoking and encouraged to protect their eyes from sun-damage as these are significant steps to prevent vision loss later in life,"Des Kenny, concluded.

"Sight Loss Groups Call for National Vision Strategy on World Sight Day" - continued