Inevitably World Sight Day is a time for reflection and an opportunity to appreciate the sights around us, whether they are fantastic vistas or beautiful faces. For eye health professionals, questions are posed. How much have I done to preserve my vision and what more could I be doing?

For 20 years, a group of Canadian optometrists have put aside their own money to educate the public on vision health. Millions of dollars are spent annually by these health professionals in hopes that Canadians will begin to better understand how important vision health is and how preventable vision loss is. Despite their tremendous efforts, it’s not enough.

Canadians remain at avoidable risk. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), a charitable organization, supports Canadians who have experienced vision loss or who have low vision. Our governments, who so carefully watch the fiscal impact of growing health care budgets, fail to see the cost of vision loss. The CNIB has provided the proof in numerous documents, most tangibly in their document The Cost of Vision Loss. Despite the hard work of thousands of volunteers and years of dedication, it’s not enough.

“Our governments, who so carefully watch the fiscal impact of growing health care budgets, fail to see the cost of vision loss.”

Why aren’t Canadians better served by our health care system? Why do we publicly pay to mend arms and legs, but ignore eyes? Vision is perceived as so important that our language is filled with visual references. Our dominant teaching style is dependent on visual cues, whether it’s reading, writing, blackboard work or computer screens.

Canadians have said they would rather lose a limb than lose their vision, so why does our focus on this important health issue remain so dim?

This year, for World Sight Day, the Canadian Association of Optometrists (CAO) urges governments and Canadians to open their eyes to the cost of vision loss, but more importantly to open their eyes to the opportunities to improve vision health. If we look to our international counterparts there are initiatives we can learn from.

Whether it’s the Australian Parliament’s Vision Caucus or their National Eye Health Plan to Promote Eye Health and to Reduce Avoidable Blindness, the establishment of the American National Eye Institute, funded by Congress, or mandatory eye exams for school age children in states like Kentucky and Illinois, we have an opportunity to improve eye care for Canadians.

The Australian framework identifies five key areas: reducing the risk of eye disease and injury, increasing early detection, improving access to eye health care services, improving the systems and quality of care and improving the underlying evidence base. All five of these areas require work and support here in Canada too.

This October 8, the CAO encourages our federal political candidates and their parties to think about vision. We know that a strong economy is based on healthy and well-educated citizens, and both are affected by our ability to see. Sometimes having a great vision for the country is about ensuring the country has great vision.