By Denis Langlois

World Sight Day, the global event aimed at drawing attention to blindness and vision impairment around the world, falls on Oct. 12 this year.

The event began in 2000 by the SightFirst campaign of Lions Club International Foundation.

It has since been co-ordinated by the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness under the Vision 2020 Global Initiative.

The IAPB says about 39 million people around the world are blind, while another 246 million have a moderate to severe visual impairment. Yet, about 75 per cent of visual impairment is avoidable through treatment or prevention.

Recently, Optical Prism magazine spoke with Dr. Michael Dennis, the new president of the Canadian Association of Optometrists, about why it’s important to mark World Sight Day in Canada as well as the CAO’s work to ensure everyone has access to the vision care they need.

Q. Dr. Dennis, for World Sight Day, the CAO is asking Canadians to “get eyewise.” What does this mean to the CAO and why is this so important?

A. 75% of all vision loss can be treated or prevented and a regular, comprehensive eye exam provides a tangible way of making this a reality for Canadians from the age of six months.

“Getting eyewise” is important to CAO, because it is important to Canadians themselves. Earlier this spring, the CAO polled Canadians about their impressions of eye health and found that 8.3/10 Canadians placed eye care as their highest level of priority, ahead of dental or hearing care. World Sight Day provides yet another opportunity to remind Canadians about the importance of maintaining good ocular health and CAO is committed to doing what it can to contribute to Canadians’ eye health and vision care.

Q. The global theme of World Sight Day is “Universal Eye Health.” What is the CAO’s position on universal access to comprehensive eye care?

A. Canada is a signatory to the World Health Organization’s Universal Eye Health: A Global Action Plan 2014-2019, which urges member states to take action to prevent avoidable visual impairment and to better integrate eye health into national health plans and health service delivery by 2020. The goal of the plan is a world in which nobody is needlessly visually impaired, where those with unavoidable vision loss can achieve their full potential, and where comprehensive eye care services become an integral part of primary health care and health systems development. To date, Canada’s response in meeting these objectives at home has been insignificant and CAO wants to work with the federal government and other stakeholders to meet its international commitment.

Q. Should the Canadian government do more to ensure everyone has access to vision care?

A. CAO collaborated with other stakeholders to develop the Federal Role Paper on Eye Health and Vision Care, which speaks to the emerging crisis in eye health, one component of which is a lack of access to vision care, especially for young people, seniors and the Indigenous. There are a number of reasons for the lack of access (workforce supply, public awareness, availability and regularity of services – particularly in rural and remote areas – affordability, etc.) and CAO is working with stakeholders and governments to enhance access to eye health and vision care.

Q. Why is it important to mark World Sight Day in Canada?

A. 5.5 million Canadians are living with vision-threatening conditions and that figure is expected to increase by 29% over the next decade. Vision loss has the highest direct health-care costs of any disease category in Canada. By 2032, vision loss is expected to cost more than $30 billion annually. Just 1% of the total expenditures on vision loss is invested in post-vision rehabilitation therapy. These are stark statistics, but we need to mark World Sight Day in Canada to remind us that vision health is a public health priority and that we have a collective responsibility to create a culture of eye health as part of overall health here at home.