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Visually impaired strategy 'vital'

The Government has been accused of doing nothing to tackle incidences of blindness, despite predictions that cases will soar 170% over the next 25 years.

Campaigners supporting the visually impaired said a national vision strategy has still not been rolled out - seven years after the state signed up to a global initiative pledging to eliminate the causes of avoidable blindness.

At the launch of the first ever vision awareness week the Vision Impaired Service Providers Alliance (Vispa) said there were still no official figures for the number of blind in Ireland.

Avril Daly, Vispa chair, made an urgent plea to Health Minister Mary Harney to take action.

"The World Health Assembly passed the Vision 2020 resolution in May 2003 with the objective of eliminating the main causes of avoidable blindness by the year 2020," Ms Daly said.

"Seven years later we still don't have any figures for the amount of people affected by sight loss in this country or the amount of money that is, or should, be spent on restorations of sight, blindness prevention and support strategies. Many of these eye conditions are degenerative and preventable, so we are calling on Minister Harney to act without further delay and deliver on a Vision Strategy for this country."

Fine Gael Health Spokesman James Reilly said the level of interest the Government was taking in sight loss and vision impairment was a disgrace.

"We have the ludicrous situation of the Central Statistics Office collecting unusable information in this area. All we know is the total number of people in this country who may be deaf or blind but we don't know which is which," he said.

Mark Cahill, Consultant Opthalmologist at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital and the Beacon Clinic, Sandyford, said: "The three main causes of reduced vision in healthy Irish people are age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataract.

"An eye examination every two years will increase the likelihood of detecting and treating these diseases early, and thereby reduce the chance of an affected person developing blindness."

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