Urgent Action Needed: Low Vision Report Show Older Australians At Risk

Today marks the official release of the report, ‘Low Vision, quality of life and independence: A review of the evidence on aids and technologies’ by Macular Disease Foundation Australia produced in collaboration with The George Institute for Global Health.

The report highlights the evidence base supporting the benefits of aids and technologies for those with vision loss and blindness in order to connect and engage with the world, maintain independence and enhance quality of life.

However, despite these benefits, there are barriers to accessing low vision aids in this country particularly for those most in need – the 100,000 older Australians with vision loss and blindness. The major barrier is cost.

For over a decade, responsibility for a funded equipment program to ensure affordability of aids and technologies has been shuffled between state and federal governments, between numerous portfolios in health, ageing and disabilities, and finally falling between the gaps of aged care and disability reforms.

sydney-fijiBarriers to access also include highly fragmented services, inadequate referral pathways and inadequate co-management plans between eye care practitioners and low vision services, along with poor consumer information and knowledge regarding services.

Julie Heraghty, CEO of Macular Disease Foundation Australia, the national body representing people with macular disease said, “Low vision aids ranging from a simple magnifier or specialised lighting, through to adaptive technology, can transform the lives of people with sight loss, helping them to live fulfilling, independent lives. Currently, the vast majority of people in Australia with sight loss have great difficulty affording or accessing these aids. This needs to change.”

Heraghty states “While successive governments are to be commended for subsidising registered sight saving drugs to avoid vision loss, unfortunately many older Australians who are vision impaired or blind, are repeatedly missing out on the support they most need – low vision aids and technologies”.

“This new, Australian-first report documents the value and effectiveness of low vision aids and technologies, the barriers to access, and the reasons why this issue must be placed on the government agenda. Recommendations proposed in this report are financially achievable and the Foundation will be urging the new Minister for Health to provide older Australians, who are locked out of the NDIS, the funding and a mechanism to be able to access the support they so desperately need and deserve”, says Heraghty.

Initial cost estimates of a federally funded program presented by Macular Disease Foundation Australia indicate that the cost of implementation and evaluation could be as little at $30 million per year with a suggested annual allowance of between $667 and $2,400 per person per annum depending on vision assessment.

Key highlights:
The MDFA’s recommendations in the report are three-fold:
1. Increased investment in research to accurately quantify the impact of low vision aids, technologies and services can have on quality of life and independence for people with low vision and blindness, particularly new technologies.

2. The establishment of a nationally funded, accessible, affordable and consistent low vision aids and equipment program to replace the current state/territory government programs.

3. Financial support for aids, demonstrated to improve quality of life for people with functional vision loss, is established in private health insurance policies.

Cost estimate of a federally funded low vision aids and technology program
Based upon a series of market assumptions, Macular Disease Foundation Australia has developed an initial cost estimate of a federally funded program to ensure equity in the affordability and accessibility of low vision aids and technologies for people with low vision or blindness. A program could be administered federally or via the states.

Based on these selected assumptions it is suggested that an annual allowance of between $667 and $2,400 per person per annum, dependent on vision, should be provided, resulting in an annual program cost (after stabilisation) of between $30 million (30% uptake) and $49 million (50% uptake).

Macular Disease Foundation Australia
Macular Disease Foundation Australia’s vision is to reduce the incidence and impact of macular disease in Australia. The Foundation is a national charity providing information, guidance and support on prevention, early detection, treatment and rehabilitation. The Foundation is the voice of the macular disease community, building healthy communities through the development of effective public policy, a sound knowledge base and strong relationships and partnerships. The Foundation’s work encompasses macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, retinal vein occlusions and a range of other macular diseases.

For more information contact the Macular Disease Foundation Australia on 1800 111 709 or visit www.mdfoundation.com.au

Low vision
Low vision is defined as visual acuity in the better eye of worse than 6/12 which cannot be corrected with spectacles or surgery.

Age-related macular degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness and severe vision loss in Australia. All Australians over the age of 50 years should have an eye test and make sure their macula is checked. The macula is the central part of the retina, which is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. The macula processes all central visual images and is responsible for the vision required to drive, see colours clearly, read and recognise faces. Age-related macular degeneration causes damage to the macula, resulting in central vision loss.

Diabetic Eye Disease
Over one million Australian adults have been diagnosed with diabetes. Nearly as many are believed to have diabetes but are undiagnosed. The prevalence of diabetes is climbing rapidly posing major public health and economic concerns.

Diabetes can result in a number of serious complications including diabetic eye disease. Most people with type 1 diabetes and over 60% of people with type 2 diabetes will develop diabetic eye disease within 20 years of diagnosis. The dramatic increase in diabetes prevalence is expected to substantially increase the number of people with diabetic eye disease. Early diagnosis and intervention can dramatically reduce vision loss.

Diabetic Macular Oedema
Diabetic Macular Oedema (DME) is a complication in some people who develop diabetic eye disease. High blood glucose levels can lead to damage of the small blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye. If these leaking vessels result in swelling of the central macula area it is called diabetic macular oedema. If this swelling (oedema) involves the centre of the macula it can cause loss of vision.

The longer a person has diabetes, the more likely they are to develop signs of eye disease. In addition, periods of poorly controlled glucose levels increase the risk of developing diabetic eye disease earlier and of having more severe disease. For more information on the Macular Disease Foundation Australia go to www.mdfoundation.com.au or contact 1800 111 709.