Peak bodies within the Australian eye health sector are drawing attention to two new reports on World Sight Day (12 October), emphasising the need to address preventable vision loss in working and ageing demographics.
Vision 2020 Australia and The Fred Hollows Foundation are highlighting these issues as part of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB)’s global campaign this year that is encouraging employers to make eye health a priority for their workers.
In light of a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and IAPB, Vision 2020 Australia says the focus of this year’s World Sight Day is workplace eye health.
The Eye Health and the World of Work report says eye health significantly affects productivity in the workplace, especially when more than 90% of vision impairment cases are either preventable or treatable through existing, highly cost-effective interventions.
“Australians are spending more time in front of screens than ever, particularly in the workplace which means their eyes are at greater risk of weakening and need to be checked regularly,” Vision 2020 Australia CEO Ms Carly Iles said.
As part of the global awareness campaign, Vision 2020 Australia is encouraging Australians to take the pledge to love their eyes and get their vision tested regularly, in addition to monitoring any changes to their vision and maintaining ongoing treatment if they have an existing eye condition.
“For those who suffer from vision loss, it’s a reminder to prioritise and maintain ongoing treatment vital to ensure their vision does not deteriorate further and they have all the aid they need to lead their lives independently,” Iles said.
The organisation is also hosting free optometrist eye checks at the Queensland Parliament House and writing to key federal and state MPs requesting them to spread the message as part of their activities to mark World Sight Day in Australia.
“We’re urging Australians to love their eyes and put routine eye tests with qualified optometrists on top of their to-do lists and for employers to implement good vision care practices in the workplace,” Iles said.
The Fred Hollows Foundation set sights on older demographic
To coincide with World Sight Day, The Fred Hollows Foundation and IFA have published a new report calling for close collaboration between the eye health and ageing sectors to protect and restore vision in the elderly population. The organisations say vision loss among the older demographic is mostly avoidable.
Today, an estimated 73% of people living with avoidable vision impairment are older people – amounting to 800 million people globally.
According to the organisations, as the world’s population ages, this figure will rise to 927 million by 2050 unless urgent action is taken.
The Connecting Healthy Ageing and Vision report presents vision as instrumental to advancing healthy ageing by pinpointing the wide-ranging impacts of vision loss on people and society.
The policy brief provides an overview of the eye health of older people today, and proposes key actions needed within and beyond the UN Decade of Healthy Ageing (2021-2030) to ensure that older people’s eye health and quality of life are preserved.
Dr Vânia de la Fuente-Núñez, healthy ageing senior advisor at The Fred Hollows Foundation, said vision loss affects the physical and mental health of older people and their ability to function in the community.
“Losing sight means facing an increased risk of mortality, cognitive decline, and depression, and, where environments are not accessible, often means losing your independence, confining many older people to their home, and increasing social isolation and loneliness in later life,” she said.
“Older women are also disproportionately affected, accounting for 56% of vision loss cases.”
IFA director of policy and advocacy Ms Katrina Bouzanis said the consequences of vision impairment among older people reached far beyond the individual.
“Caregivers often struggle to balance their needs with those of an older family member with vision loss, losing opportunities to earn a living, which can result in productivity losses and cause financial hardship to families,” Bouzanis said.
While many eye conditions become more common as people age, de la Fuente-Núñez said blindness was not an inevitable part of ageing.