As an outgoing nine-year-old with a love of computer games and reading, Zac Shaw couldn’t understand why he was slowly edging closer to the screen and pages – until, after four years of tests and hospital trips, he was diagnosed with an incurable sight-stealing condition called Stargardt disease. It causes degeneration of the macula – a small area in the centre of the retina that is responsible for sharp, straight-ahead vision.
Macular disease is the biggest cause of registered blindness in the UK in every age group; children, working age people and the older generation. New research shows macular disease is more prevalent than dementia – and is now an urgent public health issue because it is forecasted to reach epidemic proportions unless at least an extra £6million PER YEAR is invested in research.
That’s the outlook of the Macular Society, which is teaming up with Vision Express for a first of its kind campaign in a bid to boost funding for macular conditions. £1 from every Vision Express eye test will go towards tackling this cause of blindness.
The Society has found that, in an escalation of previous estimates, nearly 1.5m people in the UK are affected by macular disease, with 300 people facing a shock diagnosis every single day. And although it is the nation’s biggest cause of blindness across all age groups, without any cure and only limited treatment options, public funding remains woefully inadequate.
Cathy Yelf, chief executive of the Macular Society, said: “Our new strategy sets out what needs to do be done to avert an epidemic of blindness in the UK, and increased funding is absolutely critical.
“It is more prevalent than dementia and represents a huge cost, care and societal burden, yet inexplicably, does not receive a level of research funding proportionate to its impact. Just 0.2 per cent of UK public medical research money is spent on macular disease. That is nowhere near enough to make real advancements into treatment or a possible cure.
“As a charity, we can’t do it alone, we rely on the support of our partners and donors to make this happen, so the commitment from Vision Express is a valuable step towards meeting our target.”
National optical retailer Vision Express is donating £1 from every eye test in December to the charity, to bolster the research pot.
Supporting the optician is Zac Shaw, now a inspirational 23-year-old Para-athlete. He has achieved the title of the UK’s number 1 visually impaired sprinter and is hoping to go for gold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. He said: “Having Stargardt disease affects your confidence, not just in sport, but in day to day life too. It can be hard doing something simple like getting on a train or a bus or going to the supermarket. I want to inspire those living with macular disease, like me, to go out there and achieve their dreams. This campaign is so important because the ultimate aim has to be to stop this cruel condition.”
Macular disease is a progressive condition that steals the central vision of those affected, leaving many unable to drive, read, watch TV or recognise the faces of their closest friends and family. It is linked to falls, social isolation, depression and suicide.
Jay Ghadiali, director of professional services at Vision Express, added: “We’ve been a proud partner of the Macular Society since 2014, and we’re pleased to be joining forces in December to raise both funds and awareness, to enable the charity to get closer to meeting that £6 million funding figure. This is unprecedented – Vision Express has never introduced a donation-per-test scheme, which shows just how seriously we take this issue, and we have committed to giving to the Macular Society £1 from every single eye test we complete across our network of almost 600 stores nationwide in December.”