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Looming vision loss crisis a real threat to Canada’s health care system

Woman doing eye test with optometrist in eye sight clinic

A new report has said that Canada needs to improve services for people with vision loss to avoid overextending its health care system and economy.

The report, published by Deloitte Access Economics and commissioned by four leading vision organizations in Canada, used established data on major eye diseases to estimate that vision loss cost Canada nearly $33 billion in 2019 and is expected to climb to $56 billion in 2050, primarily due to trends in population growth and aging.

“Canada is experiencing an emerging crisis of preventable blindness,” said Doug Earle, president and CEO of Fighting Blindness Canada.

Just over one million Canadians currently have vision loss. This number is expected to reach two million by 2050 as the population ages.

According to the report, vision loss cost Canadians $17.5 billion in well-being expenses, $9.5 billion in direct health care costs, $6.1 billion in “indirect health care and other costs” in 2019.

The report also indicated that people with vision loss experience a loss of income of $10,666 per person, or 21% of the average Canadian’s wage.

“We see in the report people taking early retirement because of their vision loss, and that’s because they’re they don’t have the technologies in place to help them continue in their roles,” Earle said.

The coalition that commissioned the report — the Canadian Council of the Blind, Fighting Blindness Canada, the Canadian Association of Optometrists and the Canadian Ophthalmological Society – said its findings indicated the need for increased federal supports for people with vision loss and for provinces to cover the costs of comprehensive eye examinations.

“Federal leadership and agenda-setting are required to implement policies that address the issue head on, and that build a framework for coordinated action that will address the multifaceted nature of the issue,” the report stated. “A comprehensive and national plan for vision health in Canada is not only desirable, rational, and ethical, but also long overdue.”

In 2003, the federal government committed to the World Health Organization to develop a “Vision Health Plan” by 2007, but it never occurred.

Although vision loss cases are expected to increase, it is estimated that 75% of cases are reversible, preventable or treatable if diagnosed early.

“Research has delivered those treatments that are available to you today and that’s why regular eye exams are critical and governments across Canada, they’ve actually delisted those regular eye exams for working age adults,” Earle said.

Doug Purdy’s age-related macular degeneration (AMD) was diagnosed when he was in his 50s. Due to early detection, Purdy, of Vancouver, British Columbia, was able to receive the proper treatment before it progressed to irreversible levels.

While he still experiences some vision issues and requires regular treatment to maintain his eyesight, Purdy would be blind if it weren’t for those interventions.

“I would have not been able to have the successful businesses that I have had for the last 20-odd years without these treatments,” he said. “It would have had a profound financial impact on me as well, not to be able to carry on my business.”

Earle said regular eye exams – biannually for those between the ages of 40 and 65 and annually for those over the age of 65 – combined with knowing what symptoms to look for is among the best action for protecting long-term eyesight.

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