THE BLOG
22/09/2015 08:23 BST | Updated 21/09/2016 06:12 BST

The Country's Eye Health Picture Is Unclear

Skiing for my country during the Sochi Paralympic Games was one of the proudest moments of my life, but it is not an opportunity I would have had were it for experiencing one of the most frightening experiences a person can go through - losing your sight.

My mother and sisters also suffer with poor eye health and we are among the two million people in the UK who are affected by significant sight loss. Along with cancer, blindness is one of the most feared health conditions. Understandable, given the profound effect sight loss has on people's lives.

Given that fear, people might be surprised to learn that barely 1% of medical research funding is directed towards eye disease. Given that sight loss is estimated to cost the UK economy £22bn, it is surprising that eye health only seems to merit research investment in the tens of millions.

Unfortunately the nation's eye health picture is also set to worsen. Analysis conducted by National Eye Research Centre, a charity I am an ambassador for, has found that by 2050 there will be over four million people with significant sight loss, with a projected annual cost to the NHS of £8 billion.

Simply put, the UK cannot go on ignoring its eye health. That is why I have joined National Eye Research Centre in their vital call for investment in this sector. The charity is already having to turn down dozens of valuable research projects because there just isn't the money. These are all projects that could save someone's sight, or improve the quality of life for those already suffering with poor eye health.

There's never been a comprehensive study of the UK's eye health, and the studies that do exist are in large part based on incomplete data. A problem not fully understood cannot be properly combated. That is why I wanted to take the opportunity of National Eye Health Week (21-27 September) to make the case for more research investment, and for the Government to properly assess the state of the nation's eye health.

Though eye conditions do not often cost people their lives, it can cost them one of their senses and, with that, much of their quality of life. It is too late for my sight, though important treatment has stabilised what remains, and that was thanks to research. There is fantastic work being done in supporting those with sight loss, but we must ensure that medical research prioritises finding treatments and cures for sight loss. If we don't act soon too many people will learn the hard way that treatments are by no means keeping pace with the problem.