Health Minister Supports Campaign to Combat Unnecessary Sight Loss
During National Eye Health Week (19th to 25th September), Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann lent his support to a nationwide awareness campaign called #EyeCareWeCare, aimed at highlighting the importance of eye health to avoid preventable sight loss.
One in five people will experience sight loss in their lives, but over 50 per cent of sight loss is avoidable.
The #EyeCareWeCare campaign was officially launched during an awareness raising event held in Belfast’s Castle Court shopping centre on Thursday, 22nd September.
The campaign is being led by RNIB, the Department of Health, the Public Health Agency and Optometry NI, who are all members of a coalition known as the Northern Ireland Eyecare Network.
The Minister urged people to attend their routine eye appointments at least once every two years - even if there is no change in someone’s vision.
He said: “Sight is the sense people say they fear losing the most, yet an eye appointment at the opticians is the one they could most likely miss, cancel or avoid, which can lead to problems or in some cases to losing their sight.”
Leads from the NI Eyecare Network including RNIB Northern Ireland’s Country Director Robert Shilliday, Raymond Curran, Head of Ophthalmic Services, Strategic Planning and Performance Group, Department of Health NI; Dr Jackie McCall, Consultant in Public Health at the Public Health Agency and Jill Campbell, Chair of Optometry NI came together on Thursday to meet seven-year-old
Alfie Hannaway whose sight condition ocular albinism was picked up during a routine visit to his optometrist.
His dad, also called Alfie, said: “We learned that Alfie was also born with a rare genetic anomaly where his fovea had not developed since birth, the area in your eye where your sharp vision comes from.
“In November 2021, were we told Alfie’s older sister Clíodhna also has ocular albinism. We knew she had nystagmus (which causes the eyes to shake slightly involuntarily and can cause light sensitivity) and wore glasses, but neither Alfie or Clíodhna have the lighter hair we’ve always associated with having albinism. We had no idea there were different types and that it could affect your sight.”
Raymond Curran, Head of Ophthalmic Services, Strategic Planning and Performance Group, Department of Health NI, explained that a routine eye examination can often pick up the first signs of a sight loss condition even before there are any symptoms.
He said: “Early detection and intervention could save your sight, or keep your condition under control. As well as helping people to see better, a routine eye test can also detect a range of life-threatening conditions such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease, amongst others.”
Dad Alfie added: “We want to raise awareness among parents of the importance of getting your child’s eyes checked at an early age. Please make sure you make regular eye appointments for your whole family. Children can be checked when they're very young, like pre-school - not just when they recognise letters. Often vision issues remain undiagnosed.”
The #EyeCareWeCare event in Castle Court was the first of a series of roadshows across each of the five Health Trust areas from now until March 2023.
Robert Shilliday, RNIB Northern Ireland’s Country Director and Co-Chair of the NI Eyecare Network, said:
“We want to ensure we are reaching as much of the population as possible with these eye health messages.
“The #EyeCareWeCare campaign also seeks to connect the 56,400 blind and partially sighted people currently living in Northern Ireland with all the available forms of services and support across the statutory, community and voluntary sectors.
“I want to thank the Minister for his support with this campaign.”
Notes to editors
Love your eyes – our five eye health top tips
1. Regular eye tests
Sight is the sense people say they fear losing the most, yet an eye appointment is the one they’re most likely to miss, cancel or avoid. Most people should have their eyes examined at least once every two years - even if there is no change in your vision. An eye examination can often pick up the first signs of a sight loss condition before you notice any symptoms.
Did you know a routine eye test can also detect a range of life-threatening conditions such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease?
2. Get help to stop smoking
Age-related macular degeneration is the UK’s most common cause of sight loss and smoking doubles that risk.
3. Eat healthy and watch your weight
Obesity can increase the risk of developing diabetes, which in turn can also cause sight loss. Eating a diet low in saturated fats but rich in green leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli may help delay the progression of conditions such as cataracts and AMD.
4. Wear sunglasses
UVA and UVB rays in sunlight can harm your eyes and may increase the risk of cataracts and AMD. Wearing sunglasses, glasses or contact lenses with built in UV filter will protect your eyes. Only buy sunglasses that have a CE mark or carry British Standard BS EN ISO 12312-1.
5. Safety first
DIY and sport cause thousands of eye-related injuries each year. Always wear safety goggles (European Standard BS EN 166) or sports goggles to keep your eyes protected.