As the European population grows older and the prevalence of non-communicable diseases rises, the pressures on health and social care budgets will increase. We need to find ways to identify and treat these diseases, or support people who have them, to enable them to continue to live full and productive lives as they age. Vision loss in particular is set to have a significant impact on individuals, society and healthcare systems. As we age the risk of progressive and blinding eye diseases increases, which, if treated, can be stopped and sight loss prevented. In 2010, it was estimated that over 28 million people were visually impaired in the WHO European Region, with the most prevalent eye diseases being cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. However cataract blindness is the only one of these conditions which is surgically reversible.
Vision impairment imposes a burden on individuals and decreases their quality of life. Vision loss is a common cause of job loss, which in turn creates a vicious circle of loss of income, independence and health. It also has an impact on society as a whole, through increased healthcare spending, social costs and productivity losses. According to 2010 estimates, direct and indirect costs of vision loss globally amount to over $2 trillion and $650 billion respectively. This burden is expected to increase significantly over the coming years due to an ageing population and the rise in chronic diseases – unless we act now and become better at early diagnosis, early intervention and prevention of visual handicap.
This position paper sets out three key areas that EFAB, ECV and EU-EYE believe to be fundamental to addressing preventable irreversible sight loss in Europe: research and development, early case finding and diagnosis, and access to treatment and services. These three elements underpin the most critical factor: increasing public awareness and understanding of the importance of maintaining eye health through regular eye and sight examinations at clinically recommended intervals.
As part of EFAB and ECV, ECOO fully supports the position paper. It was launched on 15 November in the European Parliament, on the margins of World Diabetes Day.