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Barry Jones makes $35 million birthday wish to tackle avoidable blindness

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On World Sight Day Vision 2020 Australia Chair the Hon Dr Barry Jones AO has called on the Federal Government to step up its fight to end avoidable blindness and reduce the impact of vision loss for all Australians.

At a birthday celebration today at Parliament House, Canberra, Dr Jones in his role as Chair of the eye health and vision care peak body asked the Australian Government to commit $35 million to eye health promotion.

“It is my birthday wish that the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition commit to the elimination of unnecessary blindness and vision loss through increased awareness raising activity,” Dr Jones said.

“Awareness raising is critical to ensure people are more proactive about caring for their vision,” he said.

Birthday guests including the Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP (who took over Dr Jones’ seat of Lalor in 1998) and federal MPs showed support for Dr Jones’ hope by signing a giant card promising to join the fight to tackle avoidable blindness and the impact of vision loss.

Other high-profile guests who added their names to the declaration included members of the former Bob Hawke cabinet, John Kerin and Dr Tony Lamb OAM, and Dr Jones’ long-time friend and broadcaster Phillip Adams.

The link between raising awareness about eye tests and preventing vision loss was clear, Dr Jones said, adding 75 per cent of vision loss and blindness was preventable or treatable.

“There are around 500,000 people who are unnecessarily blind or vision impaired in Australia. This figure is set to double in the next decade. This is unacceptable when a simple eye test is sometimes all that is needed to prevent blindness and vision loss,” Dr Jones said.

Approximately 80 per cent of avoidable vision loss in Australia is caused by five conditions – age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and uncorrected or under-corrected refractive error – all of which increase in prevalence with age.

“Australia is on the edge of a perfect storm as Australia’s population ages and we see the rise in diabetes and diabetes-related eye disease,” Dr Jones said.

Fixing eye health in Australia should be a priority. The annual economic cost on the system was estimated to be $16 billion in 2009 but the personal cost of blindness is even greater.

Victorian woman, Tania Withers, who went completely blind at the age of 24 from diabetic retinopathy said her blindness could have been prevented if she had of had her eyes tested.

The type 1 diabetic said while specialists had told her she needed to look after her eyes, the message did not sink in until it was too late.

“There is not a day that goes by when I don’t wish I had of got my eyes tested,” Ms Withers said. “I miss not being able to see my mum and sister and I have never seen my beautiful nephew’s face” she said.

The use of low vision and rehabilitation services such as Zelia her guide dog have reduced the impact of blindness on Ms Withers’ life.

Low vision service and rehabilitation services play a vital role for people who are blind or vision impaired to maintain a level of independence.

CEO of Vision 2020 Australia thanked Dr Jones for his contribution to eye health over the past 10 years.

“Barry knows personally the importance of eye tests as early detection of his glaucoma saved his sight,” Ms Gersbeck said. “It would be fantastic if his wish could be granted and the sight of hundreds of thousands of Australians could be saved.

Ms Gersbeck said World Sight Day was an opportunity to stop and reflect on our eye health as a nation.

“We need to create a future where Australians are not needlessly blind or vision impaired,” she said.

ENDS

About World Sight Day 2012

World Sight Day is a global initiative providing an opportunity to raise the profile of the causes of blindness and vision impairment and the preventative measures. It takes place on the second Thursday in October every year.

About Vision 2020 Australia

Vision 2020 Australia is the peak body for the eye health and vision care sector, representing more than 60 member organisations from across the sector.

Established in October 2000, Vision 2020 Australia is part of VISION 2020: The Right to Sight, a global initiative of the World Health Organisation and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness.

Media Contact

Louise Rudzki, Vision 2020 Australia, (03) 9656 2020, +61 414 784 359, lrudzki@vision2020australia.org.au

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