Evaluation of Non-Medical Costs Associated with Visual Impairment in Four European Countries: France, Italy, Germany and the UK
Introduction: Visual impairment is a severe disability that puts a heavy burden on individuals, families and society. In developed countries, the two major diseases leading to irreversible visual impairment are glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. Their prevalence will increase dramatically with population aging. The economic consequences of visual impairment are considerable, but have rarely been documented, apart from some `top-down' estimates based on national statistics. We estimated the non-medical costs related to visual impairment in four European countries: France, Italy, Germany and the UK. Methods: Prevalence rates of visual impairment, defined according to local regulations, were taken from national registers and, for France, from two recent nationwide surveys conducted by the French Institute for National Statistics and Economic Studies (Institut National de la Statistique et des Etudes Economiques [INSEE]). Estimates of the number of non-registered persons were obtained from the literature and expert opinion. Estimates of non-medical costs included institutional care, non-medical devices, residential adaptations, burden on carer, paid home help, loss of income and social allowances related to visual impairment. Unit costs (year 2004) were extracted from national databases and manufacturers. Healthcare professionals were interviewed to estimate the duration of assistance required by visually impaired persons. These durations were used to evaluate the cost of paid assistance at home in the four countries. Results: The numbers of visually impaired persons were 1.27 million in France, 0.73 million in Germany, 1.03 million in Italy and 1.11 million in the UK, including, respectively, 56%, 11%, 80% and 72% non-registered persons. The frequency of institutionalisation for visually impaired persons were, respectively, 7.8%, 9.6%, 10.9% and 10%. Total annual costs for visually impaired persons were estimated at _10_749 million in France, _9214 million in Germany, _12_069 million in Italy and _15_180 million in the UK. This translated into average annual costs per affected individual of _8434, _12_662, _11_701 and _13_674, respectively. The main cost components of visual impairment in the community were `loss of income' (23-43% of community costs), `burden on carer' (24-39%) and `paid assistance' (13-29%). Conclusion: Total non-medical costs associated with visual impairment are considerable. The present analysis demonstrates that the preponderant economic consequences of visual impairment lie beyond healthcare systems, and that visual impairment has a considerable negative impact on productivity. Considering the non-medical social dimensions of visual impairment related to the consequent incapacity and dependency should encourage payers to finance health innovations that aim to preserve vision.
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