A proper strategy to deal with preventable eye diseases could save the State €76 million a year, it has been claimed.
A new report by the National Vision Coalition has called for a national vision strategy which would help prevent eye diseases before they cause sufferers to go blind.
The coalition involves organisations such as the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI), Fighting Blindness, medical professionals working in the field and blind people themselves.
There are currently 292,867 individuals in Ireland with one of the four eye diseases researched - cataract, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and wet-age related macular degeneration (wet-AMD). These eye diseases can lead to vision impairment and then blindness.
The coalition recommends interventions includuding screening for diabetic retinopathy which allows for earlier access to treatment; treatment with anti- VEGF,a protein injection which stops the development of wet AMD, screening for cataracts and also access to preventative surgery.
The call was made this morning at the launch of the Economic Cost and Burden of Eye Diseases and Preventable Blindness in Ireland report - part of a pan-European study of 16 countries.
The report estimates that five people in Ireland are going blind every week though three-quarters of all blindness is preventable. Similar findings have been made in countries across Europe.
The report also found 2.1 million healthy days are lost per annum as a consequence of vision impairment and blindness in Ireland.
The total cost of blindness and vision impairment to the state is €205 million per annum of which €76 million can be prevented with timely interventions.
The coalition says 260 people a year could be saved from blindness if the report recommendations are implemented.
Speaking at the launch of the new report, National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) Des Kenny said interventions have been proven to be cost-effective. “My hope is that we will be able to prevent blindness entirely in Ireland by implementing the recommendations of the coalition,” he said.
Consultant ophthalmic surgeon David Keegan said the establishment of the Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Program and the HSE's national programme for eye care has provided a real opportunity to achieve improved outcomes for people with sight loss in Ireland.
He said that it had been internationally recognised that screening and treatment of diabetic retinopathy is one of the most cost-effective interventions ever investigated, preventing 6 per cent of potential blindness in the first year of treatment.
He urged the Government to resolve any delays in the screening process so they can prevent further blindness in Ireland.
The coalition said it had recommended the introduction of eight principles to guide the development of this strategy last year in its framework report.
According to the report, the Government has just six years left to eliminate avoidable blindness wherever possible since it is committed to the World Health Organisation (WHO) objectives of Vision 2020.
It says that despite this, the Coalition’s eight principles have not yet been developed into a national vision strategy by the Government.