A National Eye Health Survey1 of 4,836 individuals from metropolitan, regional and remote communities has highlighted that although blindness caused by age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is declining, the disease still remains the leading cause of blindness in Australia, primarily due to our ageing population.
The survey results were released by the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) and Vision 2020 on World Sight Day, 13 October 2016.
Speaking of the report, Macular Disease Foundation Australia Chief Executive Officer, Julie Heraghty said, “It’s not surprising that blindness caused by AMD is declining. This can be reasonably explained by a number of interconnected factors which have been key drivers for early detection, rapid treatment and quality ongoing care.”
“Australia’s outstanding results are due to a unique combination of high disease awareness, leading to earlier diagnosis and treatment, and access to excellent eye health pathways, ensuring Australians receive a high standard of care from a skilled workforce in optometry and ophthalmology.
“Other recent research shows that Australia achieves significantly better long-term treatment outcomes for AMD compared to Europe or the United States.2 This has enabled so many older Australians with the disease to avoid blindness, continue to have quality of life and to read and drive,” said Ms. Heraghty.
“Importantly, successive Federal governments have provided timely, affordable access to safe and effective registered sight-saving treatments through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and Medicare. Without these actions, the number of people living with blindness would be much greater.
Ms. Heraghty said although the national survey showed that overall 52 per cent of participants did not know what was causing their vision impairment, in the case of AMD the story was very different with only 17 per cent not knowing the cause of their vision impairment. “This highlights the enormous work undertaken to raise awareness of AMD in Australia where we now lead the world, and the importance of ongoing health awareness campaigns such as those undertaken by Macular Disease Foundation Australia.”
Work to build awareness of macular degeneration has resulted in 86 per cent of people over 50 in the ‘at risk’ group having had a macula check in the last two years (up from 33 per cent in 2007 and 69 per cent in 2014).3
“Given our ageing population and despite our excellent record in early detection, awareness and treatment outcomes, there is still more to be done.
“We need to continue our education and awareness campaigns to improve outcomes for people at risk of major vision loss from macular degeneration and other potentially blinding diseases such as diabetic retinopathy. Importantly, we must increase our investment in research to enable us to continue the quest for the ultimate answer to this disease – a cure.”
1. National Eye Health Survey 2016 – Centre for Eye Research Australia and Vision 2020
2. Gillies M et al, Ophthalmology 2015;122:1837
3. Consumer survey conducted by Galaxy Research, 18-20 March. N= 549 Australians aged 50 plus. Survey developed in conjunction with the Macular Disease Foundation Australia.