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Australia's vision for the future: caring for people at risk of blindness



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Printed and authorised by Senator Rachel Siewert, 1/151 Brisbane St, Northbridge, 6000. Page 1 of 2

We can easily eliminate avoidable blindness and reduce the impact of vision loss in Australia. By making prevention and early detection of eye disease a priority, we can improve the lives of many thousands of Australians, their families and loved ones.

> OUR PLAN FOR ELIMINIATING AVOIDABLE BLINDNESS Although often overlooked, eye problems are one of the most common long-term health problems experienced by Australians, affecting around half of our population

i . That’s why the

Australian Greens are announcing our plan to eliminate avoidable blindness and reduce vision loss through:

 A $10 million targeted awareness-raising campaign to encourage people to have an eye examination every two years as well as recognizing the health risk factors, such as a family history of vision loss or diabetes.

 Investing $12 million in the development of a comprehensive 10 year national eye health and vision strategy

 Strengthened national eye health and vision care monitoring and research for $13 million

In 2009 the total financial cost of vision loss was estimated at $16.6 billion, and this figure is rising at an alarming rate ii . With

an investment of $35 million over four years, from 1 July 2013, we can have a significant impact on reducing the incidence of blindness and the impact of vision loss.

The costs associated with the plan are small compared to the outcomes.

Preventing and reducing the incidence of blindness and vision impairment in Australia will reduce pressure on our health system and community services, and increase productivity.

>EARLY DETECTION IS VITAL TO PREVENTING BLINDNESS Once sight is lost, for the most part it cannot be restored but seventy-five per cent of blindness and vision loss is preventable or treatable if problems are detected early.

An eye test can detect the main causes of vision loss such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts. Many of these diseases are hereditary and can cause blindness in babies, teenagers and adults as well as the elderly.

Eye tests every two years are the most effective way to identify problems before they cause permanent vision loss. Yet, many people, including those who are at high risk of blindness do not get their eyes tested regularly.

For example, people living with diabetes are in a high risk group for eye disease, yet a survey by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists showed that 40% of the one million Australians living with diabetes do not have regular eye exams. Over 98% of vision loss in people with diabetes can be prevented with optimal management and treatment, yet one in three people diagnosed with diabetes admitting to never having had their eyes tested at all

iii .

So, as well as making eye checks inexpensive and widely available, people also need to know why it is important to have their eyes checked, and understand the risks that, left unchecked, will lead to blindness.

Social marketing campaigns have been demonstrated to deliver a long term cost-saving and return on investment. A targeted $10 million awareness raising campaign will spread the message that many people can avoid vision loss and blindness by having their eyes checked regularly.

AUSTRALIA'S VISION FOR THE FUTURE CARING FOR PEOPLE AT RISK OF BLINDNESS The Greens’ plan for eliminating unnecessary vision loss

Seventy-five percent of vision impairment in Australia is preventable or treatable. Despite this, approximately 500,000 Australians are unnecessarily blind or vision impaired. Without urgent action, this number is expected to double in the coming decade.

Printed and authorised by Senator Christine Milne, Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600. Page 2 of 2

> AN EYE HEALTH STRATEGY FOR AUSTRALIA We also need a clear roadmap for the future to make sure the important issue of preventable vision loss can be addressed. Our plan is to develop a comprehensive 10 year national eye health and vision strategy. We will allocate $12 million over four years to develop the strategy.

The strategy will provide a clear national plan to address the underlying issues common to the prevention and treatment of eye disease and vision loss. The strategy will not focus on any one specific eye condition, but will include specific attention to the needs of high risk populations including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and older Australians. The strategy will provide a comprehensive plan including early detection, access to care, and research and monitoring.

> MONITORING AND DATA COLLECTION FOR IMPROVED SERVICES Due to limitations in the availability and completeness of eye health data, it is not currently possible to measure Australia’s progress towards eliminating preventable and avoidable blindness

iv . A 10 year national eye health and vision strategy needs to be underpinned by comprehensive up to date information about the state of eye health in Australia’s population.

We also need to integrate eye health and vision care data in broader national health indicators including the Healthy Australia 2020 Goals and Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports.

The Greens will commit $13 million over four years to research, monitoring and evaluation. This will enable us to track the effectiveness of the national eye health and vision strategy; to make sure our efforts are well targeted; and to raise the profile of eye health within the general health arena.

> INNOVATIVE RESEARCH AND TECHNOLOGY The Greens also have an R&D initiative which would lift public and private investment in Research and Development to 3% of GDP by 2020.

This would benefit researchers in the eye health sector to better understand and address eye disease and foster new projects like the bionic eye. Bionic Vision Australia are a world-leading national consortium of researchers working together to develop a bionic eye, is currently using advanced manufacturing techniques to make in Australia prototypes that right now are being tested in patients. They needed a mere $8m a year for the next 3 years to keep the project going in Australia, but were left out of Labour's most recent federal budget.

> CLOSING THE GAP IN EYE HEALTH Our plan will be targeted towards specific at risk populations including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Blindness in these communities is six times the average Australian rate. Over 94 per cent of vision loss and blindness in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations is preventable if caught early enough, yet 35 per cent of adults have never had an eye examination

v .

Australia is the only developed country in the world to have endemic blinding trachoma, one of the leading causes of blindness and vision loss in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

vi . The elimination of this disease can be achieved with adequate planning, prioritisation and investment.

> ADDRESSING THE NEEDS OF OLDER AUSTRALIANS We all deserve to live healthy, happy and productive lives as we age. With the risk of eye disease increasing three-fold with every decade after forty, eye health is a critical issue for Australia’s ageing population.

With a rapidly increasing ageing population, the costs of delivering eye care for older Australians can be minimised through this investment in early detection and prevention.

i Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, A guide to Australian eye health data. 2007. ii

Vision 2020 Australia, Clear Focus: The Economic Impact of Vision Loss in Australia in 2009, prepared by Access Economics. 2010. iii Newspoll commissioned by the RANZCO Eye Foundation as part of its annual ‘JulEYE’ campaign, May 2013. iv

Vision 2020 Australia, Eliminating avoidable blindness, June 2010. v Vision 2020 Australia, Response to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan, Dec 2012. vi

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australia’s Health. 2012.