State of eye health in Australia
In 2016, more than 453,000 Australians are living with vision impairment or blindness.
It is estimated that almost 85 per cent of all vision impairment will be among those aged 50 years and over and that the growing diabetes epidemic is also expected to dramatically impact Australian eye health.
Importantly, approximately 90 per cent of blindness or vision impairment is preventable or treatable.
Just five conditions are responsible for over 80 per cent of vision impairment in Australia: uncorrected refractive error, cataract, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.
The annual economic cost of vision loss in Australia is estimated to be over $16 billion but the personal and social cost is even greater.
What needs to be done?
Australia cannot afford to keep ballooning its health care costs. We have to invest in well founded, evidence-based prevention, early detection, early intervention and support measures that keep people engaged in the social and economic life of our communities.
In order to do this, eye health needs to be made a priority through policy change and funding programs that will eliminate avoidable blindness and vision impairment and aid community participation for people who are blind or vision impaired.
Vision 2020 Australia is currently working in partnership with the Australian Government and its members to progress eye health and vision care under the National Framework for Action to Promote Eye Health and Prevent Avoidable Blindness and Vision Loss, which is Australia’s response to the World Health Assembly’s resolution on the elimination of avoidable blindness and provides a strategic platform from which to move forward.
In 2014, the National Framework Implementation Plan was endorsed by the Australian Government and set out priorities for the next two years, particularly on preventing eye disease related to diabetes and establishing a strong evidence base for frontline service provision through the National Eye Health Survey.
Work is currently underway on the National Eye Health Survey to gather data on the prevalence and causes of eye disease in Australia, which is the first nationwide study of the prevalence of eye conditions in Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. As Australia’s population ages the nation will see an increase in the number of people with age-related eye diseases and conditions, and being armed with accurate data will help tackle these conditions efficiently and effectively.
Making eye health a priority has significant economic and social benefits for Australia and our region. Ensuring the prevention, early detection and timely intervention of eye health conditions will reduce the impact of avoidable blindness and vision loss, particularly for at risk individuals and communities. Further, equitable access to effective and appropriate supports for people who are blind or vision imparied increases social and economic participation, providing innumerable benefits, such as improved education and employment outcomes. Overall, making eye health and vision care a priority has signficant impact on the wellbeing of individuals, through improved social and economic participation and general health and wellbeing.