“Brussels can do a better job when it comes to encouraging European Union (EU) Member States to prioritise vision and eye health within their health strategies – an area largely neglected by most European governments, said Peter Ackland, Chief Executive Officer of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB).

Europe is facing an invisible epidemic, with 25 million Europeans suffering from serious vision impairment - including 2.7 million who are blind. Since an estimated two-thirds of these cases could be treated or prevented, the hefty burden that vision impairment imposes on affected individuals, their families, EU Member States and the EU as a whole could be alleviated with the right measures in place.

Lower rates of vision impairment and blindness will help EU Member States make considerable healthcare savings. In addition, better vision and eye health will not only greatly improve the lives of the people affected – it would also yield major productivity gains across sectors.

EU Member States should, once and for all, take off their blindfolds on vision and eye matters and begin adopting available, yet shockingly overlooked, cost-effective solutions (3) –with fair access to eye care for all, and rapid intervention- to help tackle the mounting challenge of vision impairment for individuals and society across Europe. For this political commitment to unfold, the ECV’s electoral manifesto calls on the European Parliament to adopt a resolution to make this happen.

“Both today’s rise in diabetes and ageing (4) in Europe threaten to increase the numbers of avoidably vision impaired and blind people. There is an urgent need to address the gaps in eye health provision in Europe, and to promote the rights of the blind and partially sighted so that they can live a life of equal opportunities within a socially inclusive Europe,” said MEP Marian Harkin.

- Contact information

Zoe Gray, Advocacy Manager with the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), at zgray@iapb.org or Tel.: +442079588254

- Notes to editors

(1) The European Coalition for Vision (ECV) is an alliance made up of professional bodies, patient groups, European NGOs, disabled people’s organisations and trade associations representing suppliers. The coalition exists to raise the profile of eye health and vision, help prevent avoidable visual impairment and secure an equal and inclusive society for those with irreversible blindness or low vision in Europe.

(2) Read the European Coalition for Vision (ECV) Manifesto for the European Parliament elections.

(3) In May 2013 the World Health Assembly adopted Resolution 66.4 which included the global Action Plan "Universal Eye Health- a global Action Plan 2014 -2019". It is now of paramount importance that the 28 Member States of the EU each develop country specific plans to achieve implementation of the Plan.

(4) The main causes of visual impairment in Europe are uncorrected refractive error (48%), cataract (13%) and macular degeneration (6%), which can affect people from childhood to old age. Numbers at risk are expected to increase dramatically over the forthcoming years, mainly due to the ageing European population.

Last modified on February 28 2014.