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The fight against myopia, or short-sightedness, is set to receive a boost with a new centre that will focus on initiatives to prevent, control and treat the condition.

The Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) Myopia Centre, opening in the first quarter of next year, will be located at the former Bedok polyclinic. It will offer services including myopia eye screenings and specialist consultations, and conduct clinical and product trials.

Announcing this yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Health and Transport Dr Lam Pin Min said: "The prevalence of myopia in Singapore is among the highest in the world. It is crucial that we take active steps in raising awareness, improving service delivery, and continue research to reduce the disease burden caused by myopia."

Myopia is an irreversible condition that is projected to affect almost half of the world's population by 2050. One billion people are also expected to have high myopia by 2050, a condition which can lead to retinal disease, with increased risk of blindness.

The Health Promotion Board (HPB) had previously said the number of people here affected by the condition has remained constant over the past 10 years - 65 per cent among Primary 6 pupils and 28 per cent among those in Primary 1.

Professor Wong Tien Yin, medical director of SNEC, said the new centre will focus on the prevention and control of myopia, and provide enhanced patient counselling too.

Dr Lam said the centre will also work to create greater public awareness of the condition.

While myopia is in part genetic, experts say Singapore has one of the highest rates in the world because children here spend less time outdoors and more time reading and writing.

Singapore has taken measures to combat myopia in recent years. There has been an increased prescription of eye drops with the chemical atropine, which helps to control childhood myopia even at 0.01 per cent concentration.

For instance, HPB has a Spectacle Voucher Fund which gives aid to underprivileged students who need glasses, and facilitates vision screening in pre-schools, primary and secondary schools.

The Myopia Centre announcement was made at the Joint Meeting on Myopia, organised by the Singapore Eye Research Institute, a subsidiary of the SNEC, the World Health Organisation, the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, and the Brien Holden Vision Institute.