5 Reasons Canada Desperately Needs a National Eye Care Strategy

A recent report found that the pandemic has had drastic consequences for Canadian vision health.

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By this point, we’re all well aware that the COVID-19 pandemic has had long-lasting repercussions for Canadians. Many people lost their lives or loved ones, businesses shuttered, schools closed and social networks dried up.

But as many areas of life return to normal, our healthcare system continues to lag far behind, especially in the area of vision care, resulting in negative consequences for everyone.

Here are five reasons that the Canadian government needs to commit to a national eye care strategy A.S.A.P.

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1. Three quarters of people can prevent blindness if diagnosed early.

Right now, eight million Canadians are living with diseases that can lead to blindness, but eye exams and early treatment can greatly reduce the number of people who end up experiencing vision loss. In certain cases, blindness can be a preventable condition.

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2. The pandemic has had a significant impact on Canadian vision health.

In 2020 alone, the pandemic had huge effects on eye care in Canada. As many as 143,000 eye surgeries were cancelled or delayed and there were three million fewer optometry visits. The result of this delay in care? 1,437 Canadians experienced vision loss.

Even as 2020 moves farther into the past, the number of optometrist visits remains down. Two thirds of Canadians have not had an eye examination within the past year and the total number of optometrist visits missed in 2021 compared to 2019 is around 1.8 million.

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3. Surgical volumes haven’t returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Although the number of day surgeries increased by 25 per cent from 2020 to 2021, this number is still 20 per cent below 2019 (meaning there were an estimated 108,000 fewer eye surgeries in 2021 versus 2019). As a result, the surgical backlog has continued to grow, meaning more and more people are waiting for treatments that could potentially save their vision.

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4. Staff shortages are an ongoing issue.

Though the federal government announced that $2 billion would go to the provinces to reduce the surgical backlog, the gap continues to grow because of staffing shortages. According to a 2021 Statistics Canada survey, as many as 40 per cent of healthcare workers were considering leaving their workplace or changing jobs, possibly due to illness or burnout.

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 5. Vision loss costs Canadians at least $32.9 billion per year.

Vision loss costs Canadians vast sums of money every year, even though it can be prevented in many cases. This consists of a total financial cost of $15.6 billion, and a lost well-being cost of $17.4 billion.

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What you can do

Canadians continue to go blind or lose vision, even though we have the technology and medicine to treat them. Sign the petition at stopvisionloss.ca, which asks the Canadian government to take concrete steps to reduce the backlog in vision care and recommit to a national vision plan. This vision plan should include research funding, a reliable supply of medication, extra access to care for Indigenous people and at-risk populations, as well as funding for national education.