May 28th, 2021
Making eye health and vision care a bigger priority
A 2016 survey indicated that eye health is not a top of mind concern for most parents despite the fact that vison loss is the most feared disability in Canada. The disconnect that can be seen in that snapshot offers a good example of the need to improve the way that Canadians and their governments think about vision care, something that optometrists are certain can be done.
One path toward that goal is a comprehensive strategy to focus the governments, health professionals, non-governmental organizations, industry, and individuals who play a role in the promotion of eye health, prevention of vision loss, and research across the eye health spectrum. With the help of the Canadian Association of Optometrists, I have tabled a motion in parliament calling for the creation of a national strategy for action on eye health and vision care intended to improve outcomes for individuals, by coordinating efforts across the country, enhancing funding and evaluation, ensuring access to care and medications, along with a public information campaign to raise awareness.
There are many good reasons to pursue a cohesive strategy on this front, not the least of which is the fact that 75% of all vison loss can be prevented or treated if caught early enough. Another is that barriers to eye health and vision care affect all segments of the Canadian population, but the most vulnerable - children, seniors, and Indigenous peoples – are at particular risk.
Recent research indicates that almost one out of four children has a vision problem that is interfering with their education or even achievements in athletics or the arts. Quite often the challenge is understanding the problem, especially with young children, who are by nature visual learners. Because the children affected have never experienced anything other than their condition, they might think that everybody experiences the world in the same way. If left untreated, these vision problems can lead to difficulty reading and exhibiting behaviours that can be confused with other conditions such as ADHD. Vision problems can also affect children at play when simple actions like throwing or catching can be made more difficult or impossible due to correctable vision problems.
Among the unique challenges for the north is a lack of service in smaller communities, especially First Nation where there can be multiple barriers to appropriate care, including inadequate transportation, financial constraints, and a lack of local options for care. This helps explain pre-pandemic research showing up to a third of Indigenous people have not had an eye examination in the previous two years.
Yet we understand these communities are at risk, with Indigenous children experiencing high levels of astigmatism, uncorrected refractive error, and poor compliance with wearing glasses. Adding to the challenge is the growing percentage of Indigenous people living with diabetes, which puts them at increased risk of vision loss.
With the number of Canadians dealing with vision-threatening eye conditions expected to grow by 29% over the next decade, we are facing a challenge best prepared for in advance. The Canadian Association of Optometrists have identified a path to limit the worst outcomes under the umbrella of a national strategy for action on eye health and vision care, which I was honoured to table as a motion in parliament. It acknowledges the need for a multi-stakeholder response and calls for the establishment of an Office for Vision Health at the Public Health Agency of Canada to coordinate efforts by working with provinces and territories on strategies for eye health, vision care and the full integration of post-vision loss rehabilitation therapy into the health care continuum. This would lead to fewer individuals falling through the cracks, while ensuring the necessities of care are readily available for those in need, which I’m certain most Canadians will support.