The vast majority of Australians remain unaware of anti-VEGF eye injections despite their success in saving the sight of thousands of Australians since 2007, according to a YouGov poll commissioned by Macular Disease Foundation Australia (MDFA) in the lead up to May’s Macula Month.
The poll discovered that fewer than one in ten people aged 50 to 70 know eye injections are a treatment option that can halt vision loss and blindness caused by neovascular macular degeneration, one of Australia’s leading causes of vision loss in the over-50s.
Australians should not have to choose between buying groceries and going blind
Only 18% of all respondents understood treatment options are available for wet AMD, and of those, less than half (48%) knew about eye injections.
Before this ground-breaking treatment was introduced to Australia 15 years ago, most people with wet AMD experienced severe vision loss or blindness within two years of being diagnosed. Today, with regular treatment, patients can maintain their vision and enjoy active lives long after diagnosis.
“Eye injections have changed the outlook for Australia’s macular disease community – but this lack of awareness is alarming,” says MDFA CEO Dee Hopkins.
“Regular eye exams can pick up the early signs of AMD and allow you to begin treatment as soon as you need it. Understanding that therapies are available is critical because early diagnosis and starting treatment immediately gives you the best chance of saving your sight.”
Top of Health Concerns
This blindness to sight-saving treatment comes despite Australians again ranking vision as their most precious sense. Going blind (45%) rated higher than losing memory (40%), a limb or mobility (17%), hearing (6%) and speech (2%) on respondents’ list of health concerns.
Pleasingly, 86% of over-50s have heard of AMD – a figure that continues to trend upwards. The more Australians know the signs of AMD, the better the outcome for those who are diagnosed early.
In contrast, while one in six Australians aged 50-70 confirmed they live with diabetes, only about a quarter (26%) of that age group have heard of diabetic retinopathy and fewer still (22%) have heard of diabetic macular oedema. Despite these diabetic eye diseases being the leading cause of blindness in working-aged Aussies, only 17% of respondents were aware that they can also be treated by injections.
Fighting for Access to Treatment
MDFA commissioned this study to mark Macula Month, an annual campaign each May to raise awareness of macular disease, as well as the steps needed to protect eyes. The theme of Macula Month in 2022 is access to treatment. While lack of awareness is one barrier, cost and access to treatment are the major obstacles that prevent Australians from receiving these sight-saving injections.
While more than 50,000 Australians are currently receiving injections for wet AMD, many patients struggle to afford it. The average patient pays AU$1900 in out of-pocket expenses a year – double if they need injections in both eyes – according to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) analysis commissioned by MDFA.
With the Federal Government considering a 69% cut to the Medicare rebate for eye injections, treatment could become even more expensive. If the Government makes this cut, PwC calculates that annual out-of-pocket costs will more than double – and the extra cost will force 47,000 patients to give up treatment over five years, leaving patients at high risk of going blind. Despite this, the proposed Medicare cut remains on the table ahead of the upcoming Federal election.
“MDFA is committed to working with the next Parliament to prevent the proposed cut and also improve access to this sight-saving treatment,” Ms Hopkins says.
“Australians should not have to choose between buying groceries and going blind. We look forward to the day when every patient in Australia has the best chance of benefiting from treatment and retaining vision for the rest of their lives.”
About the YouGov study
This study was conducted online between 9–13 Feb 2022. The sample was a nationally representative sample of 1,042 Australians aged between 50 and 70. After interviewing, the data were weighted by age, gender and region to reflect the latest ABS population estimates.
PwC (2019). Impact of IVI rebate changes.