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November 1 2012
The European Parliament was home to an eye health event for EU policy-makers in October. Julie-Anne Little, AOP councillor and ECOO president elect, shares the event’s success
To mark World Sight Day, an event was held on the October 18 at the European Parliament, with the European Council of Optometry and Optics (ECOO) taking part in an ‘European Forum Against Blindness’ dinner debate and undertaking retinal photography in the Parliament buildings over a period of two days.
A stand in the European Parliament provided an opportunity for optometrists Mark Nevin, Bob Chappell (from the ECOO Executive Committee) and myself to discuss eye health, the importance of regular eye examinations and provide information about avoidable sight loss from a range of international vision charities. To illustrate the health benefits of eye examinations, retinal photographs were taken from a large number of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), advisors and staff, with each attendee given an explanation of their retinal image. The stand was busy throughout and there was a real hunger amongst European policy-makers for additional information about eye health and what they could do to help.
The evening debate was hosted by Marian Harkin (Ireland), Richard Howitt (UK) and professor Ioannis Tsoukalas (Greece), who are all senior MEPs. The president of the European Men’s Health Forum, professor Ian Banks, expertly facilitated the speakers and debate. He highlighted that in the context of men’s health, the late presentation of men with visual problems, as well as health problems generally, is a significant barrier to prevention and early detection of disease. Richard Howitt, MEP, welcomed participants to the event and discussed visual impairment in the context of disability. He contended that not only should preventable blindness be an unacceptable health problem in Europe, “reasonable accommodation” for visual impairment as occurs in adjustments for disability generally, should be commonplace and makes good economic sense.
Participants then had the opportunity to hear from Peter Ackland, chief executive of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), presented statistics regarding preventable blindness as a European problem. He discussed European demographic data and described the different healthcare systems and workforce issues within Europe.
Mr Ackland also outlined the major causes of visual impairment in Europe and the fact that uncorrected refractive error and a lack of access to eye care means that a significant proportion of sight loss in Europe is preventable.
Nick Astbury, past president of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists and chair of Vision 2020, spoke about how eye health needs to be a public health priority in Europe and how the UK Vision strategy has developed, with successes such as preventable sight loss now being one of the UK Government’s public health indicators. He also discussed the UK’s National Eye Health Week and the key messages from this initiative: regular sight tests, the importance of early detection of disease, smoking cessation and promoting good lifestyle habits. He called for better data to be captured regarding sight loss and emphasised the importance of screening for ocular disease, highlighting the fact that only nine EU member countries have blind/partially sighted registers.
Participants also heard a personal experience of visual impairment from Dennis Lewis of the AMD Alliance International. This powerful speech reminded all of us how not only the visual but emotional outcomes are also important to patients, and that even when vision is lost, strategies and support are still fundamental to maintain the best quality of life possible.
Finally, participants received a presentation about the importance of a cross-disciplinary approach with other agencies from professor Sehnaz Karadeniz, ophthalmologist and president elect of the International Diabetes Federation. She highlighted the fact that many of those with diabetes do not present until after
10 years of having the condition.
Marian Harkin, MEP, closed the event stating how she was delighted to be able to support the meeting. The MEP told delegates she had learnt so much from the speakers, who convinced her of the strong human and economic argument against visual impairment in European society.
The event would not have been possible without the support of Novartis and Alcon, representatives from the company and a range of other eye care bodies, including the International Glaucoma Association who also attended to voice its support. It is hoped that in partnership we can build on the momentum from this event to increase awareness and the goals of the Vision 2020 right to sight initiative in Europe.
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