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#EAPM: #WorldSightDay – EU must open its eyes to preventable blindness

| October 12, 2017 | 0 Comments

Today (12 October) is World Sight Day and, to coincide with the annual event, the Euro-pean Parliament yesterday hosted the launch of a  White Paper entitled ‘Eyes Right: Preventable Blindness’, aimed at raising awareness of the importance of an EU focus on eye diseases. 

MEP Cristian Silviu Bușoi hosted the event and was joined by fellow MEPs Alojz Peterle, Marian Harkin, and Miroslav Mikolasik.  Ian Banks, the chair of the European Forum Against Blindness (EFAB), alongside European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) executive director Denis Horgan, gave overviews of the White Paper, before a stakeholder discussion.  Also present at the workshop were Caroline Klaver, Professor of Epidemiology and the Genetics of Eye Diseases at Erasmus MC, Rotterdam, who spoke about myopia and eye problems.

She was joined by Carel Hoyng, professor of ophthalmology,Department of Ophthalmology, Radboud University Medical Centre, who covered the topic of age-related molecular degeneration,  Olivier Arnaud, senior director, European Research, JDRF, whose topic was ‘Seeing Eye Disease Through the Diabetes Lens’, and Christopher Brittain, senior medical director, Ophthalmology Clinical, who spoke about ophthalmology research and development. Further topics discussed focused on easing access to prevention and innovative treatments, including patients in preventable blindness policy formation, and promoting research into blindness.

The workshop heard that there are some 39 million blind people in the world, but 80 per cent of blindness can be cured or prevented. So, in effect, 31.2 million people are blind when they needn’t be. Meanwhile, studies suggest that eye disease costs society in Europe some €20 billion, causing a significant economic burden.

The number of blind people in the EU population (aged more than 50) is around 1.3 million, with in the region of a further 10 million living with medium-to-severe visual impairment. The economic consequences of visual impairment in Europe include direct medical costs due to treat-ment and diagnosis, treatment of potential future health consequences (which includes an in-creased risk of falls or other accidents), and direct non-medical costs. Loss of productivity due to an inability to work is also a huge factor, and this often includes the patient’s carer.

MEP Marian Harkin said: “The substantial costs are more than likely to increase in the future and much better use of already-available cost-effective prevention and treatment tools would reduce the fiscal burden.

“Investment in screening programmes, earlier (and better) diagnoses and adequate treatment of retinal conditions, can lower the economic burden and bring about improved quality of life, and the-refore a more productive population,” added the Irish MEP.

“The pendulum of concrete action needs to swing towards the European Commission, then Parli-ament, in this area. Myself and my MEP colleagues here today fully support that and the White Paper that’s now on the table,” Harkin said.

Fellow Parliamentarian Cristian Silviu Bușoi said: “Comprehensive screening will certainly allow a more preventative approach, while swift and efficacious treatment means patients are much less likely to require expensive hospital beds and are more able to continue working and contributing to Europe’s economy.”

MEP Miroslav Mikolasik told the workshop that: “The EU as a whole should be doing more to facilitate research and raise awareness of eye diseases, which have a low profile compared to other diseases that ruin the quality of life, on a daily and long-term basis, of sufferers and have a huge impact societally and financially, as outlined above.”

And her parliamentary colleague, Alojz Peterle, said: “We are talking here about preventable blind-ness, and there is certainly also a political blindness to this situation. Currently, there is far too little awareness to push Europe into tackling this at policy level.

“We need to better inform patients and healthcare professionals on preventable blindness, promote policies of screening, early diagnosis and adequate care and treatment across all member states, and pursue patients’ rights to adequate treatment, safety and informed choice.”

“The European Commission and Parliament must be key players in such initiatives and open their eyes to the issues,” the Slovenian MEP added.

EAPM’s Denis Horgan said: “As we’ve heard today from everyone, research into the causes of ca-taracts and other eye diseases needs boosting across the EU, with platforms put in place for effec-tive collaboration between academia, industry and health-care systems.  “To support a common effort on behalf of all stakeholders in this area, the White Paper presented today and agreed by consensus, explains the need for a more preventative approach to blindness across the EU’s member states.

“New screening programmes and information to prevent avoidable blindness would be one giant leap forward,” Horgan added.  EFAB’s Ian Banks reiterated the need for a EU-led approach, saying: “The battle against eye dis-ease in Europe needs to be fought at EU level.   “Without screening and early detection of preventable eye diseases, leading in the worst-case scenario to blindness, much of the incredible medical science being developed will struggle to fulfil all of its potential, in this case when it comes to improving the quality of lives of visually impaired citi-zens, now and for generations to come.”

The workshop also heard that healthcare professionals need to quickly identify high quality, trust-worthy clinical practice guidelines and methods, in order to improve decision making for the benefit of their patients.   Meanwhile, patients need to be better informed and screening programmes need to be in place for their short- and long-term benefit.  The workshop presentations were followed by a question and answer session covering necessary action to make the ideas in the  White Paper a reality.

Eye disease in brief: Ten things you should know…
  • There are some 39 million blind people in the world, but 80% of blindness can be cured or prevented. That’s 31.2 million people who are blind when they needn’t be.
  • Studies suggest that eye disease costs society in Europe around €20 billion, causing a significant economic burden. One recent report estimated that (including the 39m classified as blind) 285 million people are visually impaired worldwide. The number of blind people in the EU population (aged more than 50) is around 1.3 million, with in the region of a further 10 million living with medium-to-severe visual impairment.
  • Organizations such as the European Forum Against Blindness and the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine say that investment in screening programmes, earlier diagnoses and adequate treatment of retinal conditions, can lower this economic burden and bring about improved quality of life.
  • Comprehensive screening will allow a more preventative approach, while swift and efficacious treatment means patients are much less likely to require expensive hospital beds and are more able to continue working and contributing to Europe’s economy.
  • When it comes to loss of eyesight, more timely diagnosis, intervention and, at the core, research and awareness of the extent of the problem are key.
  • Debilitating sight loss can result from such conditions as cataracts (by far the most common reason), diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma and wet AMD, among other causes.
  • There are more cases of cataracts worldwide than there are of the other diseases mentioned above added together. Cataract surgery is very successful, with 90% of patients regaining good vision.
  • Diabetes sufferers, meanwhile, are 40% more likely to suffer from glaucoma than those without the disease. The longer a patient has had diabetes, the more common glaucoma is. Age, as ever, also increases risks.
  • Patients are frequently excluded from critical aspects of the discussions on preventable blind-ness/screening and choices surrounding treatment. Their perspectives on ethics and risk-benefit are largely neglected in assessment processes, and they also have little or no say in long-term budget planning or in discussions of pricing and reimbursement of treatments.
  • Research into the causes of cataracts and other eye diseases needs boosting across the EU, with platforms for effective collaboration between academia, industry and health-care systems.

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Category: A Frontpage, Blindness, European Alliance for Personalised Medicine, Health, Personalised medicine

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