On March 7, Fighting Blindness joined with stakeholders in the area of vision health and care, including the Irish College of Ophthalmology and the Association of Optometrists in Ireland as well as the NCBI, Irish Guide Dogs for The Blind and ChildVision, to launch a Framework to Adopt a Strategic Approach for Vision Health in Ireland.
Over 220,000 people in Ireland are affected by sight loss. This is a significant figure when you consider our population of just over four and a half million, so it is clear that persons living with sight loss represent one of the country’s largest constituencies with a specific health care need. Alarming as current figures are, we expect this to increase to almost 272,000 by the year 2020.
We the stakeholders believe that a strategic approach to the provision of eye care is essential. Research has shown that up to 75% of cases can be medically managed to prevent sight loss if proper pathways to care are available.
Other countries have demonstrated the benefits of implementing such strategies. In Denmark – a country of five million people, not too dissimilar to our own – it was found that the incidence of legal blindness attributed to age-related macular degeneration (AMD) decreased by approximately 50% over a ten-year period when a more structured approach to vision health was adopted.
As stakeholders, we appreciate that attempts are being made to improve the delivery of eye care services, and we welcome the upcoming roll-out of the HSE’s diabetic retinopathy screening programme. Still, we can not ignore that we are decades behind other EU member states regarding this type of initiative.
In 2003, the Irish government committed to the objectives of Vision 2020, a global collaborative initiative set out by the World Health Organization (WHO) that aims to eliminate avoidable blindness by 2020. According to the Framework report, the government has seven years to eliminate avoidable blindness wherever possible – a short timeframe indeed, but a coordinated approach will speed up the process.
To meet this objective, we need a national blueprint that identifies priorities and outlines an approach to deliver on these objectives. As stakeholders who have collaborated to promote awareness of sight loss prevention – from both the service user and patient perspective as well as those who deliver much-needed care – we welcome the HSE national programme for eye care established last year. We believe that this development provides us with real potential to reduce the incidence of avoidable sight loss, and our coalition is designed to support the efforts of the HSE where possible.
Our coalition of stakeholders, the National Vision Coalition, recommends eight principles to direct the government’s development of vision health support and services.
1. Any future strategy should be all-encompassing and include all eye health problems and diseases affecting both children and adults.
2. Quality and safety need to be maximised for anyone accessing services.
3. Services should be person-centred.
4. Patients should have choice and control and the ability to live fulfilled lives.
5. Seamless service pathways should be put in place.
6. Evidence-based approaches and equality of access should be prioritised.
7. Research should also be prioritised.
8. The strategic development of eye health should be aligned with the wider public health policy framework.
In 100 days, our coalition will review the progress made.
We have eight principles, 100 days – and 220,000 reasons for doing so.