The Issue

Apart from the obvious impact of vision loss on the individual, there is a cascade effect on family, friends, caregivers and colleagues. The story of vision loss is not only about one person’s loss of sight. It is about a myriad of other losses, of fear and frustration, of depression and loss of employment, of a loss of independence and autonomy that can add up to significant personal, social, psychological and economic consequences.

That’s why eye health is so important and why preventing vision loss is an issue worth learning about, understanding and acting upon.

Give us strength to change the things we can

is a familiar saying that applies well to the subject of maintaining eye health to the greatest extent possible. Many age-related and other eye conditions are treatable but only if the appropriate treatments are available, accessible and delivered in a timely manner.

Thanks to advances in medicine some things can change. Therapies such as anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) drugs are available to prevent further vision loss and even restore some lost sight. If such medications are used in time it can mean the difference between retaining vision and becoming blind.

The good news is that about 40 per cent of patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) have visual improvements with anti-VEGF injections, with some individuals regaining significant amounts of vision.

It would stand to reason that because these treatment options are approved for use in Canada that they would be available and accessible to the patients who could benefit from them.

This assumption, however, may be incorrect

A recent review of several drugs used to treat retinal conditions was conducted by the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies (CADTH) in order to assess “the clinical and cost-effectiveness of anti-VEGF drugs for the treatment of retinal conditions”.

The recommendations announced in May 2016 state that a drug used in cancer treatment, currently used off-label (i.e. without Health Canada approval) to treat certain retinal conditions, be designated as first-line treatment (i.e. used before any other therapeutic option). Patient and physicians are concerned that this decision was based on financial considerations and leaves important questions unanswered about the evidence supporting this drug’s use for retinal conditions.

Because these recommendations limit physicians’ autonomy to choose the best treatment option for their patient, it is possible that access to other treatments will be delayed to the extent that there is little opportunity to prevent further vision loss or restore some of their lost sight.

The Eye See You campaign is founded on the belief that decisions to restrict access to any appropriate therapy should be based on scientific evidence and consultation with stakeholders such as treating clinicians and patient groups, not cost-containment.