On The Road: Advancing Vision Health Policy in Ottawa

May 16th, 2017 by FFB Canada

Earlier this month, I went to Ottawa to represent the Foundation Fighting Blindness in a vision health forum on Parliament Hill.

Actually, let me backpedal for a second to introduce myself: I’m Dr. Chad Andrews, the new Research & Education Officer at the FFB. I’ve been with the Foundation since late February.

A big part of my job entails supporting the FFB’s research and education initiatives, including our Vision Quest events. I’m also involved in creating some of the content you read on this site. A smaller but equally important part of my job involves engaging in the development and advocacy of vision health policies in Canada.

As you may know, our mission at the FFB is to fight blindness by advancing education and research on retinal diseases. But as I suggest in this video I took in front of Parliament, we also recognize the importance of policies that give Canadians the best vision care possible:

In other words, those two things—vision science and vision policy—are not only equally important but in many ways interdependent. We can’t have good science without the policy to support it, and science policy is superfluous if there’s no good science in the first place. We’re very interested in effective and equitable policy here at the FFB; we know that sight-saving research depends on it.

That was my reason for being in Ottawa, actually: to support new initiatives in vision policy that will ensure Canada meets the highest possible standards in vision care and research.

Luckily I wasn’t alone. Advocacy efforts that day oriented around a policy paper prepared by the Canadian Association of Optometrists (CAO), the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB), the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), as well as the FFB, and we all sent representatives to participate in activities on and around the Hill.

We had an incredible series of meetings with MPs, policymakers, and other government leaders, each affording us the chance to highlight the need for enhanced vision care policies. Our focus was on policies that address the needs of children, senior citizens, and indigenous peoples, as well as the necessity for new research bodies committed to advancing cutting-edge work on vision health.

Eye health, vision care, and vision research are all part of an emerging crisis in Canada. Given our aging population, eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are set to skyrocket. We need to prepare for this future by building policies that ensure we’re collectively fighting vision loss and blindness in every way we can, especially for those who are affected most severely.

Vision loss doesn’t exist in a bubble: it impacts education and psychological well-being; it creates barriers to accessing rehabilitation services and social programs; and more abstractly, it leaves its mark on Canada’s economy, and not insignificantly.

Representatives from CAO, CCB, CNIB, and FFB meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in front of his office. Chad is cut off on the far right.I think we communicated this clearly in Ottawa. The image above is from our face-to-face with Prime Minister Trudeau, who gave us a portion of his busy day to recognize the importance of vision health. I’m the mint shirt cut off in the far right of the foreground next to Canada’s Minister of Health, the Honourable Jane Philpott.

At the FFB we have every intention of continuing this essential work and keeping you up-to-date on our progress. I’m thrilled to be a part of it.