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Invest A Little, Attract More

The consumer organisation Retina New Zealand has welcomed the interest shown by ophthalmologists, scientists, the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind (RNZFB) and international researchers in meeting low vision needs of aging New Zealanders.

Anthony Haas, convenor of Retina New Zealand's 25 September World Retina Day public awareness programme says further international developments that will give hope - and resources - to New Zealanders with macular degeneration will be announced by June Ombler, Dunedin based president of Retina New Zealand, at the society's Annual General Meeting in Auckland on 18 September.

Retinal degenerative diseases - including Macular Degeneration, Retinitis Pigmentosa and Usher Syndrome - are the major causes of blindness in adult life says June Ombler. The majority of the members of the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind (RNZFB) have conditions of the retina.

"As our society ages, more and more people with macular degeneration will look to RNZFB for blindness or low vision services unless research produces breakthroughs to reduce the incidence of back of the eye conditions" says Anthony Haas.


Retina New Zealand welcomes the co-operation of the New Zealand section of the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists in Australia and New Zealand in disseminating information provided by the consumer organisation for eye doctors and their patients.

The helpful response from the secretary of the opthalmologists' college, Dr A J Simpson, when Retina New Zealand invited people in the front line to tell about their services is appreciated says Anthony Haas. Retina New Zealand is keen for its branches, local eye doctors and media to work together to offer knowledge that helps people get checks and understanding about conditions in the back of their eyes.

Millions into research

In May the Swiss based president of Retina International, Christine Fasser told Retina New Zealand retinal degeneration (RD) disease research may receive between $US40 to $60 million for new opportunities over the next three to five years.

The new partnership is about more than just an increase in research dollars. "It is a real co-operation between the science staff of the US Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB) and the National Eye Institute (NEI) to pool and transfer scientific information. The "partnership" will create many new and exciting research opportunities and should attract new researchers to join with the exceptional team of scientists researching RD" she says.

Turning the corner to clinical trials

Retina New Zealand's international delegate, Aucklander Bryan Jones said a year ago research is "turning the corner" from the laboratory bench to clinical trials for the treatment and cure of retinal degenerations. Bryan Jones considered it significant the US Foundation Fighting Blindness said the study of retinal degenerations was at a turning point "where we soon can apply the fruits of 25 years of basic laboratory experience to beginning human clinical trials".

Essentially, "Proof of Principle" has been established for several experimental therapies for a number of the retinal degenerations. "These are in the areas of gene therapy, pharmaceutical therapy and, to some extent, retinal transplantation" reported Bryan Jones after last years Retina International Conference.

The multi million dollar investments made this year suggest the specialists are optimistic about the potential of some experimental therapies says Anthony Haas, who is scheduled to join Bryan Jones at the mid year 2000 Retina International conference in Toronto.

RNZFB links low vision, aging

It is heartening the new chief executive of the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind (RNZFB) Jane Holden recognises low vision is closely related to aging, and is acting to ensure services are funded, provided and researched says Anthony Haas. The majority of RNZFB members have low vision.

"International research shows the high costs of personal health and disability services can be reduced by the provision of low vision services. The investment is relatively small and the demand is going to be enormous" she says.

The RNZFB ceo says older individuals with skills and equipment to maximise the effectiveness of remaining sight and/or skills developed to use other senses to orientate safely to their environment, will lead to fewer falls, fewer burns, and avoidance of a loss of confidence and independence.


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