NZ tackles myopia head on

New Zealand could sidestep the worst of the global myopia epidemic if a new, local pro-active myopia initiative proves successful.

The newly-created Myopia Action Group (MAGNZ) aims to raise awareness within the eye health community and general public about the looming myopia crisis and provide practical ways to address it. The group is the brainchild of University of Otago senior lecturer and Gisborne based ophthalmologist Dr Graham Wilson and Bay of Plenty therapeutic optometrist Alex Petty and is currently a loose, multidisciplinary coalition of volunteer eye health individuals with an interest in myopia. “If we can prevent one case of high myopia, we will have achieved something,” says Dr Wilson. “Our aim is to basically take what we know about myopia and practically translate that knowledge to our New Zealand-specific setting.”

So far, the group has identified several key focus areas:

  • Supporting research to evaluate New Zealand’s risk of the social and economic burden of myopia in context with the rest of the world
  • Increasing public and health professional awareness and education of myopia and its risks
  • Ensuring easy and affordable (publicly-funded) access to low-dose atropine drops
  • Investigating the validity of establishing DHB myopia clinics
  • Setting a minimum standard of care for childhood myopia management
  • Promoting outdoor activities at school and home
  • Evaluating the pros and cons of an early identification myopia school programme, potentially incorporated into the existing vision check at age 11
  • Keeping abreast of worldwide developments in myopia so they can be rapidly translated to the New Zealand scene.

The history of the new group goes back more than 18 months, when Dr Wilson and Petty had a discussion about what they could do to tackle rising myopia levels. “Having met Alex and noticing his passion for this subject it seemed to me a really good partnership,” says Wilson. Together, the pair penned a paper, Reducing the impact of the impending myopia epidemic in New Zealand, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal. The aim of this paper was to be a “call to arms” by presenting compelling arguments for addressing myopia as a disease, as it causes lots of problems not just to the individual, but to the public health system and the economy.

“It’s not about what we can do from an individual standpoint,” says Petty. “The whole idea of having a group is to add a bit of legitimacy, bounce ideas off each other and come up with thoughts that maybe an individual wouldn’t have thought of, and to share resources and tap into areas where people have an active interest.”

One example of this is how the group is throwing its new-found weight behind ophthalmologist Dr Rasha Altaie’s existing campaign to persuade Pharmac to make funded low-dose atropine readily available.

New Zealand is not alone in its battle against the growing myopia crisis. Singapore’s National Eye Centre (SNEC) and Eye Research Institute (SERI) and Johnson & Johnson recently announced a US$26million research collaboration to create a new centre for myopia research, clinical care and education practices to fight the condition. While in September last year, the ministry of education in China announced its intention to reduce the myopia rate amongst six-year-olds to just 3% by 2030. The US is also taking notice, with a group of 33 retailers, insurers, equipment manufacturers, eye doctors, researchers and consumer advocates meeting in Denver, Colorado, last year, to present a unified approach to promoting public awareness of the risks associated with childhood myopia*.

Both MAGNZ founders say they are keen on hearing from others who may be interested in joining the group, though they are not sure what shape MAGNZ will eventually take as it is still evolving.

Ed’s note: NZ Optics will be sharing all the news and views of the group to help the group achieve its important goals, which will include a new quarterly column authored initially by Petty and fellow optometry group member Dr Samantha Simkin starting next month.

*http://eyeonoptics.co.nz/articles/archive/combatting-myopia-together/

MAGNZ founding members

Alex Petty (optometrist - Tauranga)

Dr Graham Wilson (ophthalmologist - Gisborne)

Dr Rasha Altaie (ophthalmologist - Auckland)

Jagrut Lallu (optometrist - Hamilton)

Dr Samantha Simkin (optometrist - Auckland)

Dr Joanna Black (optometrist - University of Auckland)

Dr Ben Wilkinson (ophthalmologist - Gisborne)

Niall McCormack (optometrist - Hawkes Bay)

Dr Jeremy Armishaw (paediatrician - Tauranga)

Dr Antony Bedggood (ophthalmologist - Christchurch)

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