- The final report is available HERE

- Marian Harkin (ALDE, IE) “An invisible epidemic is threatening Europe.”

Both today’s rise in diabetes and an ageing European population threaten to increase the numbers of avoidably vision impaired and blind persons. 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. Evidence is on the table: the extensive review of epidemiological data made by the 2010 Global Burden of Disease Vision Loss Group made it clear that in all of Europe there are 25 million people with visual impairment. We should not forget that inadequate and inequitable services mean that 8.5 million people in Western Europe live with a disabling vision problem.

The creation of a coalition is an excellent opportunity to give greater prominence to such an important public health challenge which can affect people of all ages. The main causes of blindness are well-known for the eye-health community but not for the general public: macular degeneration, cataract, uncorrected refractive error, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy. But the most important message for us is that 2/3 of visual impairment in Western Europe today is avoidable; it could be easily treated and sight could be restored.

- Elisabetta Gardini (EPP, IT) “Today can be the first step for having a future Coalition of MEPs who are committed to bringing forward the issue of vision and eye health under the new Parliament.”

May I address the importance of prevention in the early stages of life, especially in children. Many more people have eye diseases that are in the early stages, which if left untreated will cause disabling impairment. One such example is a specific visual impairment called Amblyopia, more commonly known as “lazy eye”, which certainly represents one of the main causes of poor vision in children. Uncorrected refractive error can mean that a child can struggle to read a white or black board, or their text books in school. Amblyopia can be remedied by correcting refractive error only if diagnosed before the child’s 5th or 6th birthday.

This is a perfect example where the European Coalition for Vision can make a difference: we hope that with better public awareness of this condition and increased implementation of screening many more children will be diagnosed in time and not carry a curable impairment into adulthood. The presented Manifesto could be an important tool to raising prominence of this issue under the next Parliament, which could encourage a coalition of MEPs from different political groups to deal with it after the elections.

- Catherine Stihler (S&D, UK) “More needs to be done to ensure rehabilitation, accessibility of products and services for vision-impaired persons”

Today, we have celebrated two important developments: the development of the European Coalition for Vision and the publication of the vision and eye-health Manifesto.

The Manifesto prepared by the European Coalition for Vision is very important at a time when members of the European Parliament can give support to this Coalition. By signing the Manifesto we can give hope to those who live with visual impairment or who are in danger of sight loss and a commitment that the new European Parliament will give this important issue the political attention it deserves in upcoming political cycles.

The breadth of membership in the coalition ensures that every dimension of the problem, including eye health, visual impairment and disability aspects, vision and correction of sight-loss, provision of glasses and contact-lenses, prevention of avoidable blindness will get more attention in the future. May I encourage you to help the representation of this issue and to sign our document so that the Coalition can continue its valuable work on eye health, vision and visual impairment.

- Peter Ackland, chief executive of the International Agency for Prevention of Blindness (IAPB): “The time has come for European Institutions to address eye health challenges. The ECV manifesto is open to anyone who is committed to help.”

25 million Europeans are suffering from serious vision impairment, including 2,7 million people who are blind. Two-thirds of these cases could be treated or prevented. The cost to individuals, their families, Member States and the EU as a whole, undermines European goals of social cohesion and participation, and hinders economic growth and development.

The solutions that have been proven to be simple and cost-effective are available but overlooked in the same way as the crisis: regular eye care for all, easy access to care and rapid intervention when necessary will tackle most of this burden. People living in Europe would benefit greatly from improved eye health; and for Member States healthcare savings and productivity gains would be considerable. Therefore we urge the European Parliament to address this challenge under its next mandate.

People living with sight loss have the same rights as those without a disability but often these rights are not fulfilled. Europe must do better in providing rehabilitation programmes, assistive devices and remove barriers to accessing health, education, social support and employment. We call on the European Parliament to use its significant powers to improve the lives of people affected by sight loss.

- Background - Numbers

An extensive review of epidemiological data has been made by the 2010 Global Burden of Disease Vision Loss Group. This study gives a total for all of Europe of 25 million with visual impairment (2,736,000 blind + 22,176,000 Low Vision).

Of a total population of 889 million this represents 2.8%

Many more people (estimated at more than 70 million) have eye diseases that are in an early stage, which if left untreated will cause disabling impairment.

Causes of blindness in Western Europe are

2/3 of visual impairment in Western Europe today is avoidable – it could be easily treated and sight restored.

But, inadequate and inequitable services mean 8.5m people in Western Europe live with a disabling visiual problem.

The European Coalition for Vision has come together to call on the European Union institutions to use their power and influence to support our work in addressing these challenges.

The European Coalition for Vision (ECV) is an alliance made up of professional bodies, patient groups, European NGOs, disabled people’s organisations and associations of health technology providers. 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.

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

Call to action for Members of the European Parliament (MEP)

  • ENCOURAGE the European Commission and EU Member States to prioritise vision and eye health as part of their public health strategies.
  • ADOPT an EP resolution to encourage Member States to ensure fair and equitable access to eye care, including free sight tests and treatment, for the most at risk and vulnerable groups (including those on low incomes).
  • ENSURE all relevant legislation and regulations improve access to and use of eye care services and promote an inclusive society that supports the rights and independence of blind and partially sighted people.
  • IMPROVE the consistency and standard of EU and Member State data collection on the status of vision and eye health and the inclusion of people with sight loss.

EPs who signed the ECV Manifesto in relation to the ECV launch event:

- Contact information

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

(source of the photos © Photo EXPRESSION Marc Dossmann)

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Last modified on February 28 2014.