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PREVENTING BLINDNESS

Experts say prevention and treatment of vision loss should be a public health priority

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A more proactive approach to the prevention of blindness in Europe could yield real benefits not only for patients but also for society as a whole, said Omer Saka MD, MSc, partner – health economics and outcomes research, Deloitte Consulting, who presented some of its initial findings from a pan-European study on the economic costs of blindness at a meeting in Dublin.
The Deloitte group’s study will eventually include data from 16 European countries. Its findings so far indicate that around 50 per cent of cases of blindness in Europe are either treatable or could have been prevented. In sheer numbers that means that of the roughly 700,000 people who are blind in Europe, there are 350,000 people who would not be had they received the appropriate medical intervention. 
Money spent on preventing or at least delaying blindness would be easily recouped through patients having a longer working life, a reduced need for assistance and a reduced need for family members to take time off work or to leave employment to provide that assistance, Dr Saka told EuroTimes in an interview.   
“If you were to think of vision loss only in terms of healthcare costs you would be missing a major chunk of the picture, because healthcare providers don’t pick up the bill for the majority of the burden that blindness represents,” he added.
Among the countries studied so far (France, Germany, Italy, Slovakia, Spain, Ireland and the UK), blindness incurs a total cost of €7.1bn, or roughly €10,000 annually per patient. Only 19 per cent of that is due to health costs, while 56 per cent is due to informal care. Another 25 per cent of the cost is due to lost productivity and in fact, 123 million workdays are lost per year in Europe due to blindness.

Cost-effective
“This study demonstrates that prevention and timely diagnosis are the most cost-effective healthcare intervention, and that such interventions could help offset total economic costs of €20bn across the region, “said Prof Ian Banks, chairman of the European Forum Against Blindness and senior lecturer at Queen’s University, Belfast, in an interview. 
He noted that the recommended interventions include screening for diabetic retinopathy, to allow for earlier access to treatment when necessary; treatment with anti-VEGF for wet AMD screening for cataracts; and access to surgery where needed. The study’s findings indicate that currently in Europe there are around 27 million patients with cataract, around four million with glaucoma, three million with wet AMD and around two million with diabetic retinopathy.
“Cost-effective interventions will lead to a healthier population, which could result in a more sustainable healthcare budget for governments. The prevention and treatment of vision loss should be a public health priority,” Prof Banks added.

Ian Banks: ian.banks@emhf.org
R Ömer Saka: rsaka@deloitte.com

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