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Canada urged to do more for eye health as chronic eye disease is on the rise

Toronto, October 3, 2014

By Leslie Shepherd

Dr. Neeru Gupta
Dr. Neeru Gupta

Canada may be a high-income country with universal health care, but many Canadians have unmet eye care needs that will grow with the aging population, according to an editorial published today in The Canadian Journal of Ophthalmology.

The editorial is a call to action for Canada to do more to implement the 2014 World Health Organization’s global action plan for universal health care. Canada was one of 194 countries that endorsed the Global Action Plan for the Prevention of Avoidable Blindness and Visual Impairment.

The editorial was written by Dr. Neeru Gupta, an ophthalmologist at St. Michael’s Hospital and a scientist in its Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Sciences, and Dr. Ivo Kocur, the WHO’s medical officer for the prevention of blindness.

Dr. Gupta noted that approximately 4 million Canada adults have at least one of the leading eye diseases: age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy. Within the next 20 years, the number of Canadians with vision loss from the three major chronic eye diseases, macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy will double, even though 75 per cent of vision loss is preventable.

She said 1 million Canadians have some form of macular degeneration (damage to the macula, a small spot near the centre of the retina that they eye needs for sharp, central vision). That’s more than the number of Canadians who have breast or prostate cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease combined.

Vision loss has the highest direct health care cost in Canada ($15.8 billion a year), more than diabetes, cardiovascular disease and all cancers combined.

“Vision loss is also, in human terms, the most feared disability,” said Dr. Gupta.

Dr. Gupta said individuals need to be sure to get their eyes checked. Canadian guidelines suggest adults between the ages of 19 and 64 should have an eye exam every two years and seniors should have one annually.

As well, she said people should be aware of any risk factors for eye disease, such as a family history of glaucoma or diabetes, with diabetes the single largest cause of blindness in Canada in those under age 65. The risk of having glaucoma or macular degeneration increases as people get older.

“We need to make sure people are aware that vision loss is a major public health concern,” Dr. Gupta said. “In spite of its position globally as a developed and wealthy nation, Canada would benefit from a critical evaluation of how it delivers and funds eye health care and the products and technology available. We also need to do much more research.”

Dr. Gupta is also a professor of ophthalmology and vision sciences at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine and she holds the Dorothy Pitts Chair in Ophthalmology and Vision Sciences.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

Media contacts

For more information, or to arrange an interview with Dr. Gupta, contact:

Leslie Shepherd
Manager, Media Strategy
416-864-6094
shepherdl@smh.ca