The Vision Impact Institute (VII), which was set up by Essilor International in March 2013, is beginning to make some progress in putting together evidence of the cost of visual impairment to society and the economy in order to stimulate government action on vision care all over the world.

Maureen Cavanagh, a 23-year veteran of the optical industry, is going to act as the new president of the institute. She is going to take the place of the French-based Jean Félix Biosse Duplan, who set up the institute and ran it until now. Biosse Duplan, who has spent more time with the Essilor group, is going to act as vice president of business development in the fast-moving countries, working with Essilor's local subsidiaries on strategic projects. He lived for four years in Singapore and knows Asia well.

After working for Johnson & Johnson, Cavanagh has been with Essilor in the U.S. since 2005. She has been the president of the Nassau Lens Group since the beginning of 2010, and she will continue to be based in the U.S. while running VII. In fact, the legislative process in favor of vision care seems to have progressed more strongly in the U.S. than in Europe lately, notably with the state of Kentucky imposing new guidelines on sight correction for drivers. The Vision Council is lobbying to get other U.S. states to adopt similar guidelines, which are much more stringent than those applied in most of Europe.

The European Coalition for Vision, which groups Eurom 1 and other vision care organizations such as Euromcontact, welcomed a report on the health situation in Europe presented on Dec. 3 by Vytenis Andriukaitis, commissioner of the European Union for health and food safety, but asked for the addition of complementary data on vision to help stimulate further public policy actions in the eye health sector.

The document released by the European Commission lists 88 quantitative criteria to evaluate the health of European citizens and what they are doing about it. Three of the criteria concern dental care, but none refer to vision care. The coalition, of which Biosse Duplan is still a member, hopes to get the criteria for vision care included next year in order to get some action, starting with the European Parliament.

More than 100 independent studies have already demonstrated the socio-economic cost of vision impairment. Yet, with some exceptions, the issue is curiously missing from the agenda of policy-makers in many European countries, Africa, Asia and other parts of the world.

VII has made the biggest progress so far in China, where representatives of the Ministry of Health & Education expressed surprise at some data published by the institute at a highly publicized press conference in Chengdu last month. They are considering carrying out additional studies on the subject of vision impairment prior to possible action in the school system, industrial factories and other areas.

The data presented by Biosse Duplan showed among other things that 80 percent of Chinese students suffer from myopia, yet only 20 percent of Chinese citizens have access to proper eye care. They indicated that China is losing $178 million per day in terms of labor productivity due to poor vision.

The press conference was held in partnership with the Michelin Bibendum Challenge, which was intended to spread awareness about road safety in a country where more than 150 million people drive a car. Even taxi drivers do not wear glasses in spite of widespread myopia.

VII proposed that people all over China should undergo eye exams to obtain a driving license and get regular checks every five years.