Health Minister Supports Campaign to Combat Unnecessary Sight Loss      

Eye care week

This National Eye Health Week (20th to 27th September), Health Minister Robin Swann has 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.

Minister Swann said: “I am pleased to be supporting this campaign. Raising awareness of eye health and eye care and the importance of prevention and early intervention when it comes to our sight is vital.” 

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.”

Alfie Hannaway

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 is 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 his support with this campaign.”