Barbados now has a draft National Eye Care Policy and Strategic Plan (2014 – 2019) which provides a framework to eliminate avoidable blindness and visual impairment.

News of this came from Health Minister, John Boyce, in an address to mark World Glaucoma Week, currently being observed.

Mr. Boyce revealed that glaucoma, a chronic disease, was one of the leading causes of irreversible blindness globally, regionally and locally.

He said that it was referred to as ???the silent thief of sight??? because it began with virtually no symptoms; vision loss was gradual, and, if left untreated, could result in significant or total vision loss.

Noting that the Barbados Eye Study (1988 ??? 1992) was one of the largest glaucoma studies ever conducted in a black population, the Minister said that it revealed glaucoma accounted for 73.2 per cent of blindness in Barbados, with seven per cent of the population over age 40 diagnosed with the disease.

Of participants 50 years or older, one in 11 had glaucoma, and the prevalence increased to one in six at age 70 or older. He described these statistics as disturbing, given that debilitation from the disease was preventable with early detection.

In an effort to combat this challenge, Mr. Boyce said Barbados adopted Vision 2020 ??? The Right to Sight, a global initiative of the World Health Organisation and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, aimed at eliminating avoidable blindness by 2020.

This was followed by a Cabinet decision to establish a National Committee on Eye Care Services, which was responsible for developing the National Eye Care Plan and Policy.

In addition to its primary objective of eliminating avoidable blindness, the national plan also identified the need for rehabilitation opportunities for those living with blindness and low vision.

The Health Minister said these goals would be achieved through the integration of eye care services in the national health strategy; the improvement of the overall management of eye care services; and increasing public knowledge on preventable causes of blindness and visual impairment.

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