moved that Bill C-284, An Act to establish a national strategy for eye care, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, I am very excited to stand today for the second hour to speak on my bill, Bill C-284, which would establish a national eye care strategy, on second reading.
For many years, Canadians have been calling for a comprehensive national plan for vision health, including you, Madam Speaker. You have mentioned this issue many times. Historically, the federal government has lacked any substantive framework on the matter of public eye health care. As it stands, supplementary coverage has only been extended to particular groups of people who qualify for provincial medicare services.
The current structure has created huge gaps in access to care, leaving the majority of Canadians to pay for their eye health care expenses out-of-pocket or forcing them to work private insurance packages into their already narrow budgets. I find this system unacceptable.
The vision loss crisis in Canada requires a coordinated response, and this is what the national eye care strategy is all about. Here are some of the numbers, to give an even better idea of what is going on in vision health in our country. Over eight million Canadians, or one in five, have an eye disease. There are 1.2 million Canadians who live with vision loss or blindness. There were 1,292 deaths associated with vision loss in 2019 alone.
Meanwhile, 75% of vision loss cases can be prevented if patients are diagnosed early and have access to treatment. Dr. Arshinoff of Humber River—Black Creek has told me many stories of people who would have gone blind had they not been able to get immediate attention. Too often, we take our eyes for granted.
My grandmother died with a blinding eye disease, and I had a long-time friend and mentor who was also blind when he died. My aunt suffers from blindness related to macular degeneration today.
Age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts are among the top five causes of vision loss here in Canada. AMD affects millions of Canadians and is the leading cause of blindness for those over 55. However, it fails to garner the same attention as other common eye diseases. Many of us in this room may also develop age-related macular degeneration, and as part of this bill, I would like to see February designated as macular degeneration awareness month to give us an opportunity to focus on the signs of AMD and what we can do about it.
There is a high percentage of seniors and school-aged children who have undiagnosed eye problems. Very few children had an eye test during the pandemic, and many also spent an inordinate amount of time in front of computer screens. Even more, over 3,000 Canadians are in need of and waiting for an eye transplant. The Canadian Transplant Society actively recruits Canadians to become organ donors, but many people have a fear about donating their eyes. In polls, over 81% Canadian respondents say they would donate their organs, but only 35% actually sign up to do that.
Losing one's vision increases mental, financial and social hardship. It can lead to a loss of mobility and inability to live independently, to drive, to read or to participate in physical activity. It can result in a loss of social interaction, which can often lead to depression and other mental illnesses.
Vision loss has a profound impact on individuals, their families and society, costing our economy an estimated $32.9 billion a year. Of this cost, $4.2 billion is attributed to reduced productivity in the workplace. Over half of that cost, $17.4 billion, is also attributed to reduced quality of life, which is primarily due to a loss of independence, especially in the aging population. Over $983 million was spent last year across Canada on injections to treat AMD.
A national strategy for eye care will allow all provinces and the government, as well as health care researchers and practitioners, to sit down at one table and jointly develop and implement the measures necessary to make sure that all Canadians from coast to coast to coast have equal access to eye care, no matter where they live.
Not long ago, I came across a heartbreaking story of a man who lives in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. It has been five years since he last updated his prescription glasses, even though he has been eligible for a new pair for the last three years. He could not get an appointment with an eye doctor and he is still waiting. Some of the issues have to do with the pandemic, which caused gaps in people getting in for eye doctors' appointments, but a lot of it is because we take it all for granted. Nevertheless, the fact that access to eye health treatment varies widely from province to province seems so wrong to me. With Bill C-284, I am hoping to change that.
I am sure many colleagues have heard many similar stories while talking to people about their eyesight and when they last got their eyes checked. It is something that we just take for granted. By the time a person finds out they have a problem, it is usually too late.
Access to eye health care should not be treated as a luxury. It is a crucial service needed throughout all walks of life. Seniors need eye health care to keep themselves capable and protected. Working people need it to stay dedicated to their responsibilities and to not be excluded because of physical ability. Children and young adults need eye health care to study and navigate the world around them. Eye health care means having a safe and enjoyable quality of life.
Bill C-284, if passed, commits the government to a national strategy dedicated to improved access to eye care and rehabilitation services, a strategy that also envisions the creation of a vision desk at the Public Health Agency of Canada and investments in research to find new treatments to prevent and stop blindness.
The bill is also calling on enhanced access to eye health care for indigenous people who, for far too long, have been neglected and not had any access to any assistance on eye health care.
We take our vision for granted. From social isolation to depression to travel difficulties, there are so many challenges when one cannot see. Many people never stop to consider what it would be like to go blind. We have to increase the awareness of vision loss and what we should be doing every day to protect our eyesight.
I would like to see this piece of legislation move as quickly as possible, as I indicated. Thanks to all the support we have here in the House for this bill, as soon as it can get to committee, get through committee, back here and passed through the Senate, it would become law. I think there are many people across Canada, many of the organizations fighting blindness, CNIB and so on, that are desperately hoping that this time this is actually going to happen.
Throughout my 33 years in political office, my mentor, Paul Valenti, suffered from age-related macular degeneration and died two years ago. My grandmother, Annie Steeves, was blind most of her life, as is my Aunt Ruby Steeves. I am doing this bill for everyone but especially for them.
I am thrilled that in a position as an MP and on behalf of my family and all Canadians, I can truly make a difference by putting forward this bill, which will open the door for more recognition of vision loss and its implications and, of course, with the help of all members in this House and all parties that have indicated that they are very supportive.
Bill C-284 will have a direct, positive impact on Canadians' vision health now and for generations to come. For many years, optometrists, ophthalmologists, researchers and patient advocates have been calling for federal leadership on eye care. The CNIB, Canadian Council for the Blind and Fighting Blindness Canada are just a few of the organizations.
As I mentioned earlier, the member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing has been a leader in the fight for vision care in Canada and I am very happy to have you in the Speaker's chair today while I do the second reading.
We have started many great health care initiatives in the chamber over the past several years, including dental care and pharmacare. The national eye care strategy is the next important step in making health care accessible and affordable for all Canadians.
Making eye health, vision care and rehabilitation services a health priority requires our support. I call on all my colleagues in the House to continue to work together, to change attitudes toward blindness, to ensure that the 1.5 million Canadians with sight loss are understood and provided with the necessary supports.
I encourage all members here today to become champions for Bill C-284 and refer it to the health committee as soon as possible.
Together, we can continue the momentum to help the bill become a law for all Canadians.