More Focus needed on Providing Vision Care to Ageing Population says Canadian Council of the Blind in Launching New Campaign

Mike Yale and his guide dog Vargus travelled the world together

Canadians need "The Vision Care We Deserve," including better access to approved treatments, care and equipment

OTTAWA, June 21, 2011 /Canada NewWire Telbec/ - Governments must make vision care a greater health priority to ensure all Canadians have access to appropriate, comprehensive and approved vision care and treatments through the public health system, the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB) says in launching a new national campaign called "The Vision Care We Deserve."

Serious vision impairment is a major health issue, affecting one in four Canadians who reach old age, and becoming a greater issue as the population ages. According to a new poll commissioned by CCB, this is a major issue for Canadians, with 82% saying the loss of vision is their most feared disability. This compares to loss of hearing (3%), loss of a leg (4%) or loss of an arm (2%).

The same poll showed that more than two-thirds of Canadians (70%) feel that regular eye exams and vision care should be covered as part of provincial public health plans. Almost as many (65%) would expect if they lost their sight that medical treatments and assistive devices would be made available to them through the public health system, but this is not the case at present. The visually impaired have to rely on non-profit groups, such as the CCB, for help and services.

"This shows there is a disconnect between what Canadians expect they would receive if they had serious vision impairment and the current reality," said Louis Gillis, National President of the CCB. "We want our campaign to raise awareness about how vision care isn't the health priority it should be. We want government action so Canadians really do get the vision care we deserve."

As a symbol of patients not getting what they deserve, the CCB is drawing attention to what it sees as a potentially serious safety issue in British Columbia and Nova Scotia related to treatments provided by the public health plans in those provinces for the leading cause of adult-onset vision loss, age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

The newest treatment, Lucentis, is a great step forward by stopping and even reversing vision loss in many patients. It is now available on the public drug plans of every province, but B.C. and Nova Scotia also allow their public plans to give patients the cancer drug Avastin, which is not approved by Health Canada for treating wet AMD, because it costs less. However, a recent study from Johns Hopkins University in the U.S. showed greater rates of death and stroke among people using the cancer drug Avastin for wet AMD compared to those on the approved drug, Lucentis.

"We are calling on all the provinces to ensure they put patient safety ahead of cost considerations by ensuring persons with wet AMD get the treatment that has been approved for the condition," said Ms Gillis. "To do otherwise is unacceptable to us as patients. British Columbia and Nova Scotia need to stop allowing their public plans to provide an off-label cancer drug for wet AMD when an approved alternative exists and is available."

The CCB sees this as an important example of how vision care has been made a very low priority in our healthcare system, with governments seeking to provide the bare minimum for a vital health issue. As a result, Canadians are left to provide for themselves for many aspects of vision care. The CCB poll found that, for seven out of 10 Canadians (71%), cost is a factor when deciding to get vision and eye care services.

The poll also indicates that Canadians would be receptive to more and better training programs to help visually impaired people get appropriate jobs to allow them to be productive members of society. Almost nine out of 10 Canadians (89%) agreed that more training programs should be made available. And 60% agreed that those with visual impairments should be given special consideration when applying for a job.

As part of its campaign, the CCB has sent letters to every Minister and Deputy Minister of Health in Canada, urging a greater priority on vision care more in line with the serious nature of vision health issues and the importance Canadians put on them.

The Vision Critical / Angus Reid Forum poll for CCB

From May 27 to May 28, 2011, an online survey was conducted by Vision Critical among 1,007 randomly selected Canadian adults who are Angus Reid Forum panellists. The margin of error, which measures sampling variability, is +/- 3.1% 19 times out of 20. The results were statistically weighted according to the most current education, age, gender and region census data to ensure a sample representative of the entire adult population of Canada.

The Canadian Council of the Blind

The Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB) was founded in 1944 by blind war veterans and graduates from schools of the blind. All officers and directors are blind or visually impaired which gives a unique sensitivity to the needs of the blind community. The CCB is a registered charity pursuant to the provisions of the Income Tax Act (Canada). The CCB has over 65 chapters across Canada and is the largest membership based organization for the blind. Recently, under changes to its new bylaws, the CCB encourages the sighted community to become members to assist in its mission to address the issues of blindness and visual impairment which affect many families in Canada. The CCB deals with the ongoing effects of blindness with specific programs to encourage active participation in local communities, education, sports and recreation and employment. The national office is located in Ottawa, Ontario. The CCB is the "Voice of the Blind®" in Canada. More info at: