From age-related macular degeneration (AMD) to glaucoma and cataracts, there are many causes of vision loss. Each year, more than 50,000 Canadians lose their vision. With a rapidly ageing population, the prevalence of vision loss is expected to increase nearly 30 percent over the next 10 years.

In the last two decades, the discovery of new treatments that combat vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) have had significant benefits for patients with retinal disease.

"These drugs combat VEGF, which is the primary system that grows blood vessels," explains Dr. Robert Devenyi, Ophthalmologist-in-Chief and Director of Retinal Services at the University Health Network. In the eye, VEGF can lead to serious issues. "If used in time, anti-VEGF medications can mean the difference between retaining vision and going blind," notes Dr. Devenyi.

"Cost alone should never be the driver of what treatment a patient is prescribed – safety and efficacy are our priorities and this is what we are advocating for."

Addressing the issue

Through its national Eye See You public awareness campaign, the International Federation on Ageing (IFA) is focusing on the importance of patient empowerment and physician autonomy in making evidence-based therapeutic choices.

"We want to ensure that people are well-educated and informed about the treatment options available to them to improve their sight," says Dr. Jane Barratt, Secretary General of the IFA.

The federation is joining forces with organizations like the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB) to provide education about the importance of eye health and to advocate for access to safe and effective treatments. "Cost alone should never be the driver of what treatment a patient is prescribed — safety and efficacy are our priorities and this is what we are advocating for," says Louise Gillis, National President of the CCB. "Our goal is to protect the vision of all Canadians, not to put them at risk."

Advocating for better health

Age is an important risk factor for eye disease, and access to early screening and safe and effective treatment is critical to the large population of older Canadians.

"Canadians are living longer and healthier, and are continuing to contribute to society through paid employment or volunteering opportunities," says Dr. Barratt. "Vision is an important factor of healthy ageing."

Beyond regular visits to an eye care professional, every Canadian has an active role to play in advocating for their own health care. It's important to be aware of your options and to speak to your health care team about the best treatment for you.