THE Ministry of Health is expanding a retinal disease treatment program to provide full coverage for vision-saving drug therapies for two diseases of the eye, announced Health Minister Terry Lake announced last Saturday.

Patients with diabetic macular edema or retinal vein occlusion will receive full coverage of the cost of Lucentis (ranibizumab) and Avastin (bevacizumab) as part of their treatment by a retinal specialist. Previously, the coverage was only available for the wet form of age-related macular degeneration.

Diabetic macular edema is a disease of the macula, a small area at the very centre of the retina, which can cause blurred vision and partial or complete loss of the patient’s central vision. Retinal vein occlusion is caused when a blood clot blocks one of the tiny veins in the retina, and can lead to impaired vision and blindness.

The treatments for these two diseases will be provided by the province’s retinal specialists, ophthalmologists with extra training in diseases of the retina. Patients throughout British Columbia can see a retinal specialist by referral from a doctor or optometrist. Full coverage of these drugs provides retinal specialists with several options to provide the most appropriate care for each patient.

“This is a huge step forward in the fight to preserve vision in people with diabetic macular leakage or retinal vein occlusions,” said Dr. Derek Godinho, president of the Association of British Columbia Retinal Specialists. “With the expanded coverage, all of our patients will now have access to sight-saving therapy for these potentially blinding conditions. We commend the government for proceeding with this very important initiative.”