Report shows long term impact of eye disease in Aussie kids

The Save Sight Institute has released findings from a commissioned report into the socioeconomic impact of low vision and blindness from paediatric eye disease in Australia, highlighting the significant challenges faced by individuals and families affected by childhood blindness, and subsequent economic impacts more broadly

The Save Sight Institute has released findings from a commissioned report into the socioeconomic impact of low vision and blindness from paediatric eye disease in Australia.

Produced by Deloitte Access Economics, the report highlights the significant challenges faced by individuals and families affected by childhood blindness, and subsequent economic impacts more broadly.

“Early diagnosis and intervention is important” said Professor John Grigg, paediatric ophthalmologist and Head of the Discipline of Clinical Ophthalmology  at The University of Sydney, “but it is only part of the puzzle. In Australia, we have become very good at detecting eye diseases in children, but our treatment options for many remains limited.”

Genetic eye disease is recognised as a leading cause of blindness in children in developed countries, and according to Professor Robyn Jamieson, Head of the Discipline of Genetics at The University of Sydney “We are making good progress in understanding the underlying causes of  blinding eye diseases, aiming to improve diagnosis and eventually develop targeted treatments for these conditions.”

Professor Grigg continues “While we are developing new therapies it is critical we optimise the current care for children with eye patients.”

The Save Sight Institute is working towards this by introducing an innovative new patient care coordinator programme, as well as a number of new multidisiciplinary clinics (including eye genetics and  combined paediatric ophthalmology and rheumatology/uveitis clinics). These advances provide immediate benefit to young patients by streamling their care and improving links between specialties, as well as preparing individuals and families for emerging new therapies.

The report titled Open Eyes: Socioeconomic impact of low vision and blindness from paediatric eye disease reveals important insights into childhood blindness, including:

  • Refractive error (hyperopia, myopia and astigmatism) accounts for three of the top ten most common long-term health conditions in under 15 years olds;
  • Other ocular disorders and visual disturbances are more common than many other childhood conditions such as epilepsy, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis and childhood cancer;
  • In 2015 there were almost a third of a million Australian children with vision impairment or the potential to become visually impaired;
  • In 2015 the total health costs to treat children with diseases of the eye and adnexa were an estimated $439 million, or 11.3% of the total health system expenditure on eye conditions;
  • Having a vision impairment causing disability reduces the chance of being employed by almost 50%;
  • Reduced employment due to vision impairment causing disability costs the economy an estimated $50 million per year in lost productivity;
  • The estimated economic impact of vision impairment in children is $624 million per year;
  • Today’s 17 year olds can expect their lifetime real earnings to be $53,916 (NPV) lower than their colleagues without vision impairment;
  • The total cost of disability adjusted life years (DALYs) amounts to $1.31 billion, or $3,880 per child with VI in 2015.

Children’s eye health is an important and challenging issue across the world. Children require their sight for a long time, and if a vision impairment is undetected or untreated, it can substantially negatively impact a child’s quality of life. Improvements in the detection and the treatment of eye disease in childhood will not only have long-term positive outcomes for the child and their family, but will save the health system and the economy more broadly.

According to Professor Grigg “There needs to be more investment support for paediatric eye research. This is not only important for children’s quality of life, but also for the emotional and financial well being  of families. Because of this report, we now know that the cost to the public health system is substantial. We have a small window of opportunity in most cases to give children the best chance at a sighted life as the early disruption of normal visual development has long-term consequences for individuals, families, communities and nations. It is in everyone’s interests to find better ways of treating vision impairment in children.”

The Open Eyes report is available for download here: Open Eyes: Socioeconomic impact of low vision and blindness from paediatric eye disease 2016 report

To support paediatric eye disease research please donate to the Inherited and Paediatric Eye Disease group on our donation page. Please note all donations are processed by The University of Sydney.