On 19 February Lynley Hood and I travelled to the Beehive in Wellington to meet the Parliamentary Friends of Eye Health, on behalf of the VICTA group. The Parliamentary Friends of Eye Health is a cross-party group of MPs with an interest in this area. Attendees included the journalist Paddy Gower, CEO of Kāpō Māori Aotearoa NZ Chrissie Cowan, and MPs from across the house. There was also representation from the School of Vision of Optometry and Vision Science. I met head of school, Steven Dakin, a neurologist with interests in visual neuroscience, optometry, sensory systems, psychophysics, vision, seeing, amblyopia, glaucoma, macular disease, autism and schizophrenia. He also happens to be passionately engaged in the idea of getting funding for an optometry bus. We had a conversation where we dreamed about a world where our Vision 2020 project would be getting school communities interested and engaged in the fascinating ways that vision intersects with our understand of science and health. The optometry bus might then come along and test the children who were referred from the child-to-child vision screening. Dreaming is the first step to achieving any goal.
It was particularly heartening to hear the support for
New Zealand’s first National Eye Health Survey. This is something that Lynley Hood has been advocating for many years in New Zealand. With Gordon Sanderson she initiated the petition that led to a select committee hearing, which eventuated in the national reference group. The Eye Health Aotearoa group has not included VICTA, but we are pleased to see that the seven point plan is precisely what we have been asking for all along. This is something that we can get behind.
Little is known about differences in eye health across the demographics of New Zealand. However if anecdotal reports and recent work conducted in Australia are anything to go by, it is likely that Māori will have substantially poorer eye health outcomes. Without crucial information about prevalence of eye conditions and identification of the barriers to health services that patients face, vision health research in New Zealand cannot move forward. This is a crucial issue in terms of eye health inequity.
We came away from the meeting feeling that there is a genuine appetite amongst politicians to see progress in this area and I am hoping that by the end of this year we will have made concrete progress towards achieving several of Eye Health Aotearoa’s goals. It was heartening to see that professionals are starting to work together towards the same goals