AROUND five people are going blind every week, despite the fact that i t is preventable in 75 to 80pc of cases.
According to a new report, up to €76m could be saved annually if early intervention is prioritised and eye disease treated early on.
The report, called the Economic Cost and Burden of Eye Diseases and Preventable Blindness in Ireland, was produced by the National Vision Coalition, which is a collection of groups involved in the area of sight loss.
Dr Omer Saka, Director of the European Centre for Health Economics, Deloitte Consulting, told a conference yesterday that the situation in Ireland is similar to what they have seen in other European countries.
"As with other European countries, this study has found that there are methods to prevent blindness which would be cost-effective for Ireland to incorporate into a national vision strategy," he said.
The report suggested that blindness and vision impairment is costing the State around €205m a year and it will increase to €2.5bn by 2020.
Currently, more than 22,000 people in Ireland are blind or vision-impaired, but their numbers will rise by a fifth by 2020. Some 13,845 people in Ireland are now blind: a rise of 7pc since 2011.
There are currently 292,867 individuals in Ireland with one of the four eye diseases which can lead to blindness, including cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma or wet-age-related macular degeneration (wet-AMD).
Speaking at the launch, David Keegan, consultant ophthalmic surgeon at the Mater Hospital, said the screening programme for retinopathy has improved the care of people suffering from diabetes whose eyesight is at risk.
"Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness among the working-age population," he said.
"It has been internationally recognised that screening and treatment of diabetic retinopathy is one of the most cost-effective interventions ever investigated, preventing 6pc of potential blindness in the first year of treatment.
"We welcome the Government's diabetic retinopathy screening programme and urge them to resolve any delays in the screening process so that we can prevent further blindness in Ireland."