2nd Session, 41st Parliament,

Volume 149, Issue 42

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Motion to Recognize May as National Vision Health Month Adopted

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Seth, seconded by the Honourable Senator Plett:

That because vision loss can happen to anyone at any age and as a result thousands of people across Canada are needlessly losing their sight each year, and because many Canadians are not aware that seventy-five per cent of vision loss can be prevented or treated, the Senate recognize the month of May as “National Vision Health Month,” to educate Canadians about their vision health and help eliminate avoidable sight loss across the country.

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I would like to thank Senator Seth for raising the motion on vision loss in Canada. It is a very important issue, which should be discussed.

Senator Seth is absolutely right: We need to do more to make sure that Canadians are aware that most causes of vision impairment are treatable and preventable. Current estimates suggest that 1 million Canadians are living with blindness or significant loss of vision. This number is expected to grow in the future. I think her motion to create a national vision health month is a good idea that I fully support.

While the situation for vision loss in Canada is dire, vision impairment around the world is ten times worse. Millions of people around the world fail to get the care they need to deal with vision loss. This is often due to lack of knowledge or funds, or access to medicine and facilities. This is especially true in developing countries where 90 per cent of the world’s visually impaired people live. According to the World Health Organization, 285 million people are estimated to be visually impaired worldwide: 39 million are blind and 246 million people have low vision; and 82 per cent of all blindness around the world occurs in people who are 50 and older. As the world elderly population grows, these already staggering numbers are expected to rise.

Globally, uncorrected refractive errors such as myopia, hyperopia or astigmatism are the main causes of visual impairment. Cataracts remain the leading cause of blindness in middle- and low-income countries. As you know, with the right care, cataracts are curable with an operation.

Although significant gains have been made over the past 20years, curable diseases such as trachoma continue to painfully wreak the eyes of the world’s poorest populations. Perhaps most tragic is that an estimated 19 million children are visually impaired. Of these, 12 million are visually impaired due to refractive errors, a condition that could be easily diagnosed and corrected; and 1.4 million are irreversibly blind for the rest of their lives.

I would like to share the story of one of these children with you. The story is about a two-month-old baby named Yang Jiajian who lived in mainland China. Jiajian was diagnosed as needing cataract surgery costing 20,000 Chinese yuan, or $3,500, when a white spot was discovered in one of his eyes while only a few weeks old. A full cataract surgery involves not only taking away but also replacing the muddy lens with an artificial substitute. Sadly, despite scrimping and saving for two years, Jiajian’s poor family could only afford to pay 10,000 yuan for the removal of the cloudy lens. The little boy was condemned to spend the next decade of his childhood with very little vision.

This story, however, has a happy ending. Through the work of the Red Cross and other NGOs, Jiajian was able to get the rest of his cataract surgery and regain his vision; but by that time he was already 12 years old. In Canada, we would never expect a child to wait 10 years to deal with a correctable vision issue; but in the developing world, Jiajian would be considered lucky.

Honourable senators, the World Health Organization estimates that 80 per cent of all visual impairment around the world can be prevented or cured. Over a short period of time, we have seen what the world can do when we work together to eradicate diseases. Although there is still much to be done, polio, TB and HIV have been significantly reduced over the past decade. Honourable senators, if we make vision loss a significant global priority, I have no doubt that we can gainfully reduce the amount of vision loss both here at home and around the world.

Again, I support Senator Seth’s motion and thank her for bringing this to our attention.


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