New data released to mark World Sight Day (14 October) has put the spotlight on how the COVID-19 pandemic has had a substantial impact on eye healthcare.
Vision 2020 Australia and the Fred Hollows Foundation have each shared fresh statistics that demonstrate Australian’s are jeopardising their eye health.
According to Vision 2020 Australia’s analysis of the latest Medicare data, almost half a million Australians missed having an eye test over the past year-and-a-half as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, putting their sight at risk.
“Between 1 March 2020 and 31 August 2021, there were 516,906 less eye tests conducted nationally than in the previous 18-month period. This means that there are more than half a million Australians at greater risk of developing an eye condition or losing sight than before the pandemic,” the national peak body for the eye health and vision care sector said.
This World Sight Day it is calling on all Australians to have an eye test as soon as possible, not to ignore changes in vision, and to maintain ongoing treatment if they have an existing eye condition, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Optometrists in all states are permitted to provide urgent care, so people should not delay seeking treatment if they notice a change in their vision,” Vision 2020 Australia CEO Patricia Sparrow said.
“Around 90% of vision loss is preventable or treatable if it’s identified early, and eye tests are the early warning system which could save your sight.”
More than 453,000 Australians are blind or vision impaired, according to the peak body, and estimates suggest that if current trends continue, these numbers will almost double by 2030.
Fred Hollows Foundation makes plea
In a survey commissioned by Fred Hollows Foundation and conducted by YouGov in May this year, one in two Australians aged 18 to 24 reported their eyes or vision have been negatively affected by more screen time during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It found that more than one-third of young Australians (37%) have no idea how often they should get their eyes checked, in contrast to 24% of the general population.
The pandemic has also delayed eye check-ups for 28% of people aged 18 to 24 and 31% of people aged 25 to 34, mainly because of lockdowns.
Of those Australians who have had their eye checks delayed during the pandemic, 31% of people aged 18 to 24 cited not having enough time as the reason, higher than all other age groups.
The survey revealed one in three young Australians have either had their last eye check more than four years ago or have never had their eyes checked.
The most common reason young Australians cite for not getting their eyes checked are that they think their eyes are fine and eye health is not a pressing concern.
Author, science communicator and ambassador to The Fred Hollows Foundation Dr Karl Kruszelnicki is urging Australians to book an eye test this World Sight Day, as many people in NSW emerge from lockdowns.
“I encourage all Aussies, particularly younger people who might take their eyesight for granted, to #loveyoureyes and book an eye test,” Kruszelnicki said.
The Foundation’s CEO Ian Wishart said the reminder comes after widespread lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 disrupted routines and shifted people’s priorities.
“Blindness and vision loss aren’t just an issue for older people. They affect people at all stages of their lives and The Foundation treats patients of all ages,” he said.
“With all the screen time that people get from a very young age, we also expect that people will be needing eye treatment earlier and earlier in their lives.
“I urge young people to get their eyes checked at least once every two years, or more frequently if there’s an issue.”
The Fred Hollows Foundation has screened about 160,000 people worldwide in the month leading up to World Sight Day.