Why Eye Health Needs to be Integrated Into Health Care

Earlier this year the Vision Impact Institute chose to join and support the efforts of the European Coalition for Vision (ECV), which is doing a great job raising the profile of eye and vision health and tracking new studies on vision impairment in Europe. It is a best practice that other countries / regions could follow. We need more data to better comprehend the problem of uncorrected vision.

Zoe Gray, Advocacy Manager, explains the goals and challenges of the European Coalition for Vision (ECV)

“In Europe there are unnecessarily high levels of avoidable vision impairment and blindness which seriously impacts the lives of millions of Europeans. As the new European Parliament forms at the beginning of July, I am working with the European Coalition for Vision (ECV) on behalf of one the founding members (International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness) calling on our  Members of European Parliament (MEP) and other supporters to ensure that eye health is no longer neglected.

According to the Global Burden of Disease Vision Loss Data, there are about 20.4 million people in the whole of Europe suffering from serious vision impairment including 2.3 million people who are blind. Without appropriate action, the number of people affected will increase due to evolving threats such as diabetes (which can cause sight loss) as well as an increasing aging population more prone to refractive error and other eye conditions.

Thanks to easily available and cost effective solutions such as cataract removal or provision of eyeglasses, a shockingly high proportion of vision impairment cases could be prevented or restored. Yet, there are a number of reasons why so many people are not getting the help that they need.

From the patient side, medical expenses and lack of awareness on the importance of early eye health prevention are some of the reasons. Marginalized groups and vulnerable sectors of the population such as persons with disabilities can face difficulties in accessing health care including eye health services.

Historically, eye and vision health tend to be compartmentalized from other aspects of health care. Yet, this doesn’t make practical sense. Smoking and obesity for example can be among the risks factors for avoidable vision impairment. Further, blindness or vision impairment can occur as a co­morbidity. For example, high proportions of diabetics can be at risk of diabetic retinopathy (as many as 1 in 3). An integrated health care model with improved referral systems is essential for early diagnosis.

A significant problem is the lack of comprehensive data available on eye health and the prevalence and access to services across the health continuum including rehabilitation.

Currently, the European Core Health indicators list of 88 indicators does not include eye or vision health. The collection of systematic harmonized data on eye health would greatly help to improve design and delivery of appropriate services.

In addition to better data, the European Coalition for Vision is calling for integration of eye and vision health into wider health strategies; ensuring that eye and vision health is accessible and free for the poorest. This legislation is conducive to better eye health for all. Europe can, and should, take the lead in vastly reducing levels of avoidable blindness and improving the lives of those affected.”

Zoe Gray is Advocacy Manager with the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), joint partner in the  WHO programme “Vision2020.

For further information on the ECV, read the Press release (click here) or visit the website: www.ecvision.eu