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Vision 2020

When It Comes to Vision Health, Informed Consent Is Key

Senior women enjoying high tea together
Senior women enjoying high tea together
Dr. Jane Barratt

Dr. Jane Barratt

Secretary General, International Federation on Ageing (IFA)

Millions of Canadians — and the people who care about them — are affected by vision loss, but changing government mandates could affect access to quality treatment. Here’s how the Eye See You campaign is standing up for patient rights.

“If we’re very lucky, we get older,” says Dr. Jane Barratt, Secretary General of the International Federation on Ageing (IFA). “We should be celebrating the fact that there are more and more older Canadians, with average life expectancy increasing. One of the critical factors, though, is to maintain or improve the functional ability and autonomy of older people. Vision health is key for this.”

Today, about 1.5 million Canadians identify as having sight loss, while about 5.59 million have an eye disease that could lead to sight loss down the road. With an aging population, that number is set to increase — especially if patients don’t have access to early, appropriate interventions that could diminish their chance of losing their vision.

The use of biologics, complex drugs produced from living organisms, versus biosimilars, which are less-expensive alternatives to the former, is an ongoing debate in the field of vision health. As the conversation continues, informed choice for patients facing age-related vision problems is vital.

Vision loss — an inevitable part of aging, or a preventable problem?

The Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies (CADTH) recently announced a review of biosimilar drugs which includes treatments for vision loss. The conversation about shifting towards biosimilars continues between government, physician groups, and other stakeholders.

It’s essential that patient outcomes supercede cost-effectiveness throughout this process — especially since certain biologic drugs have a long history of proven efficacy for preventing vision loss.

“Vision loss doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of getting older,” says Dr. Barratt. “We’re not against biosimilars. But there are a lot of unanswered questions, and we are very cautious about switching when we have not answered key questions about not only economic cost, but social and psychological cost.”

With an aging population, the number of Canadians experiencing sight loss is set to increase — especially if patients don’t have access to early, appropriate interventions that could diminish their chance of losing their vision.

The Eye See You campaign for options and informed consent

The Eye See You campaign, an initiative coordinated by the IFA, centers on advancing awareness and understanding of vision loss therapy for Canadians. Its goal? To further patient empowerment and physician autonomy, and make sure Canadians have access to top-line treatments — because dollars and cents shouldn’t dictate our access to vision-saving treatments.

From developing informational materials to facilitating conversations between stakeholders, it’s all about raising awareness. “Our focus is on increasing the level of education and knowledge exchange when it comes to vision health,” says Dr. Barratt. “We’ll also be putting together an ad hoc advisory group made up of retinal specialists and patient groups.” The campaign is affiliated with the Canadian Council of the Blind, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, and the World Blind Union, to name a few.

Since vision health goes hand in hand with maintaining autonomy in an aging population, vision loss has a cascade effect that touches the family, friends, and caregivers of directly-affected individuals.

What can you do to get involved? Stay informed about your options, ask your physician about all available treatment options, and sign up for updates at EyeSeeYou.Care.

“At the heart of this, it really is about how we maintain and ensure an enabling environment that offers older people the opportunity to do what they value,” says Dr. Barratt. “People need to be informed and educated to be part of that conversation, and they should be able to ask questions about the treatments they’re offered.” 

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