Involvement in Sports for the Visually Impaired

Santen aims to build a society that is inclusive to all regardless of visual impairment by promoting activities to support sports for visually impaired people.

Relations with Sports for Visually Impaired People

Partnership with International Blind Sports Federation

In August, 2020, Santen and the International Blind Sports Federation have joined forces to help shape an inclusive society, in which all people can live in harmony irrespective of any visual impairments.

10-years partnership through blind football

Santen and the Japan Blind Football Association (hereinafter, “JBFA”) signed a partnership agreement in March 2017. Santen entered this agreement sharing JBFA’s vision: “Through blind football, we hope to create a unified, borderless society for all”; and its mission: “We strive to contribute to the enjoyment of life for everyone involved in blind football.” We continue to support JBFA’s activities by serving as a sponsor of the Japanese National Men’s and Women’s Blind Football Teams and assisting the association in providing opportunities to exercise and engage in sports for visually impaired children, who have few such opportunities, and holding diversity education programs for elementary and junior high schools. In 2019, Santen supported an international blind football competition, the first endeavor for the company. During the IBSA Blind Football Asian Championships 2019, held in Pattaya, Thailand, we conducted activities, including holding blind football experience programs for local visually impaired children and supporting championships operations in the participation of Santen employees who had come together from around Asia to work as volunteers. In March 2020, Santen signed a long-term three-party partnership agreement with the International Blind Football Foundation (IBF Foundation), which supports international blind football competitions with the aim of helping solve social issues related to visually impairments around the world, and JBFA. The agreement will last until FY2030. In addition, this long-term partnership is named “VISI-ONE”, and in October 2020, shared vision “Bringing down the walls between those who can see and those who can’t, turning society into a stage on which anyone can shine” has set. With this long-term partnership agreement, Santen, JBFA and IBF Foundation will use blind football as the starting block to facilitate the societal participation of the visually impaired through a variety of channels including visually impaired sports, creation of new professions, and participation in innovations.

Supporting visually impaired children’s sports activities at JBFA-hosted events

In partnership with JBFA, Santen supports JBFA’s initiatives for visually impaired children’s sports activities. These initiatives include Blind Football Kids Camps, which are intended to enable visually impaired children to foster their spirit of independence by engaging in sports without their parents’ presence, and Junior Training Camps, which aim to train next-generation blind football players and foster leadership in them. Some of the children who have participated in these events now play a leading role in their local blind football teams. These events also provide the parents of participating children with opportunities to communicate with each other. On occasions such as opinion exchange meetings, participating parents often open their hearts to each other concerning difficulties and troubles they face in childrearing, a topic they have in common.

Santen employees also participate as supporters in these events and deepen their understanding of visual impairments. Participants from Santen commented: “I was able to reconfirm our values and social responsibility as a company dedicated to the ophthalmic field,” or “This experience has further fueled my fervent desire to contribute to patients and their loved ones.” The supporting activities have provided employees with valuable opportunities to reconfirm Santen’s CORE PRINCIPLES.

Participating children and Santen employee exercising in pairs
Santen Blind Football Kids Camp 2019 in West Japan

Dialogue with the Japan Blind Football Association (JBFA)

Mr. Eigo Matsuzaki, Executive Director of the Japan Blind Football Association (JBFA) and Santen Pharmaceutical President and CEO Shigeo Taniuchi held a dialogue about the significance of building a partnership.

  • This dialogue is cited from an article in the August 19, 2019 issue of the Mainichi Newspaper (West Japan edition).
(left) JBFA Executive Director Eigo Matsuzaki (right) Santen President & CEO Shigeo Taniuchi
Photo provided by Mainichi Newspapers

Can you tell us about the vision of the JBFA?

Our vision is to build a society, through blind football, where it is nothing special that people with and without visual impairments mix with each other. Blind football is a powerful tool for fostering public understanding about visual impairments. The sport is also unique in that everyone can experience it. Even people who can “see” can participate in blind football matches by being blindfolded, and thereby learn from their own experience that even people with visual impairments can do sports. I believe that blind football can offer valuable opportunities for discoveries.

Can you tell us what you at Santen have discovered by supporting blind football?

As a specialized ophthalmic company, we were exploring what we could do in addition to developing therapeutic eye medications, when we encountered blind football. I really recognize that it has been significant for our employees to share experiences with patients and their family members through blind football. Moreover, I was surprised that we met with such an encouraging and favorable response from a large number of medical professionals, including eye doctors, more than we expected.

I remember being deeply impressed by Santen employees’ very positive attitude toward supporting visually impaired children on such occasions as Kids Camps, not only doing sports with the children but also sharing various other activities such as eating and sleeping crowded together. Unlike encountering visually impaired children at the hospital, sports activities allow you to encounter such children as fellow athletes also striving for victory and sharing smiles with you. I believe that such encounters can serve as starting points for you to view impairments as something concerning yourself.

Taking an example from my own experience, a grandfather of mine lost his eyesight from glaucoma. Every time I met him, I found that his symptoms had gotten worse, causing him more and more inconveniences and narrowing his sphere of activities. Meanwhile, I remember hearing my grandfather say that he felt saddest not because of suffering many inconveniences but because he was unable to see his grandchildren growing up. Everyone could become visually impaired, but not many people feel close to such impairment or have an experience like mine. I believe that opportunities to share experiences with visually impaired people through sports can significantly affect many people.

Can you tell us about the future developments in this partnership?

I'm sure that public interest in para-sports has grown remarkably in recent years. Public awareness of blind football has also been raised, so I hope it goes further beyond mere awareness. I hope to provide the general public with many more opportunities to experience blind football, taking advantage of the power inherent in sports.

As a company operating in 70 countries around the world, we will explore what we can do from a global perspective. As a sport played by a huge number of people worldwide, football can involve many people. During blind football matches, spectators must keep quiet, so “silence” is one of the prominent features of the sport. I think, in a sense, blind football can provide spectators with a stronger sense of participation in matches than non-blind football, where supporters continue cheering loudly during matches. I hope that such experiences allow people to feel closer to visual impairments and increase their overall interest in eye health.


Interview with Athlete Keiji Amakawa

Note: The following is an English language translation of the original Japanese language article and interview.

Glaucoma is the leading cause of vision loss in Japan. Because glaucoma develops few subjective symptoms, some patients find too late that their symptoms have already advanced, and others drop out of treatment because they cannot perceive the therapeutic effects. As a specialized company in the field of ophthalmology, Santen focuses on raising awareness of the importance of early detection, early treatment, and continuation of treatment in glaucoma treatment to prevent vision loss.
Keiji Amakawa, an athlete actively participating in sports for the visually impaired, started to have difficulty seeing due to glaucoma while in the upper grades of elementary school. He lost the vision of his right eye when he was in his first year of university, and after graduation, he lost the sight of his left eye. In this interview, Mr. Amakawa revealed his experience he has had since he was in elementary school, during which he first noticed the symptoms of glaucoma. He also talked about how he became engaged in sports for the visually impaired as well as his observations as a person with visual impairment.
Through his experience, we hope to share the importance of early detection and continuation of treatment of glaucoma.

  • This interview was conducted in March 2018.

About glaucoma

Glaucoma is primarily a disease that damages your eye’s optic nerve due to elevated intraocular pressure (IOP), resulting in defects of the visual field (i.e., the range you can see) or partial blindness. Note that people with the normal range of IOP can develop glaucoma, which is called normal tension glaucoma.
One in 20 people aged 40 or over in Japan are said to have glaucoma.

Initial symptoms and starting treatment of glaucoma

Thank you for coming for this interview. Tsuji and I are in charge of the marketing of glaucoma treatments. While many types of glaucoma treatment are currently being developed, glaucoma remains the leading cause of vision loss in Japan. Through our work, we aim to minimize the risk of vision loss resulting from glaucoma through the use of drugs as well as our activities, in other words, to eliminate vision loss due to glaucoma.
The visual field, once lost by glaucoma, never recovers, so it is crucial to detect the disease early and start treatment. However, it is said that the initial stage of glaucoma is often without subjective symptoms, and this may delay the detection of glaucoma.
I hear that your loss of eyesight was due to glaucoma. How did you first notice your symptoms?

I first had the symptom of cloudy vision when I was in the upper grades of elementary school. The symptom persisted for two to 12 hours a day, so I went to see an ophthalmologist, and was diagnosed with glaucoma and was prescribed eye drops.

Did you use the eye drops as prescribed? It is important to use medication according to the designated dose frequency.

I sometimes forgot to use the eye drops when I was able to see clearly, but when I had cloudy vision, that is, when my eye condition was poor, I never failed to use them.

Patients often forget to use eye drops when their condition is good, and we realize this is a problem. To preserve the visual field for a long time, it is vital to start glaucoma treatment early and continue the treatment, whereas people generally do not see ophthalmologists as long as they have no subjective symptoms. Even if they are diagnosed with glaucoma and prescribed ophthalmic solutions, the majority do not use the prescribed drugs regularly every day.

That’s true. I had no sense of fear that this might lead to vision loss in the future, so when my eye condition was good, I didn't bother.

An ophthalmologist I know once told me that it was very difficult to encourage patients to proactively receive treatment, and wondered if it was a good idea to tell them firmly that they might lose their vision unless they continued the treatment rigorously.

I had thought that if I continued to use the drugs even when my eyesight was good, their medicinal effects would wear off. If it had been explained to me about the benefits of maintaining the dosage regimen regardless of my condition and the reason, I would have kept using my eye drops.

What about the dosage frequency? The prescribed dosage frequency when you started using eye drops must have been three times daily. Is it difficult to apply eye drops regularly if you have to use them frequently?

Yes. Particularly when I was in elementary school, I was too engrossed in playing indoors and outdoors to remember to apply my drugs. It would be so much better if the drug could have the same efficacy with a reduced frequency.

Mr. Amakawa revealing his experience of receiving glaucoma treatment

Visual field defects in glaucoma

When did you first notice the change in your vision?

I first realized I had partial vision loss when I was in the second year of junior high school on our school trip. I was seated in the middle of the backmost row on the bus, and didn't notice a microphone that other students had passed around to me. Surprised, I had my vision tested alternately with the right eye and then the left, and found I had partial vision loss in the lower right corner near my nose. It was really a shock.

I see. Examining your visual field using only one eye at time turned out to be the easiest and surest way to check your vision. I often hear from ophthalmologists that many patients see an ophthalmologist only after their condition has significantly worsened, that they should have noticed their symptoms much earlier. However, most somehow believe that they are okay because they can see with their two eyes.

Exactly. In my case, when my condition was poor, I had cloudy vision as if I were looking through frosted glass. Had I checked the difference in vision using each eye in turn, when my vision was not cloudy, I would have been able to notice missing areas in my visual field.

We also need to make more efforts to raise awareness of the significance of receiving testing at an early stage to start treatment early, in order to slow the progression of visual field loss.

I was a member of the football club at my junior high school. The visual field loss developed not only in my right eye but also in my left eye. I couldn’t see the football if it was in the lower part of my visual field, and became unable to handle footballs even though I had previously been able to. When I took part in long-distance running, I used to fall in places where other students never fell. Also, when I was taking exams, I was able to see only four out of five options, so I became increasingly unable to solve problems when my condition was poor. These were tough situations.

Mr. Hasegawa and Ms. Tsuji interviewing Mr. Amakawa about his experience

Realizing a unified, borderless society for all

I understand that you go to a lot of places in your daily life. Have you experienced dangerous situations because you cannot see?

I have fallen onto railway tracks. Many of my friends who have visual impairments have had similar experiences. Steps on the road as well as ditches and gutters are also dangerous. I become very startled if a dog suddenly barks close to my face.

That’s really dangerous. How can we provide support for people with visual impairment in their daily living?

They say that all you have to do is to ask casually, and lend them your shoulder, removing all barriers. However, when I actually see people with visual impairment, for example, on a platform of a station, I don't know what to say to them. Do you have any advice?

Talk to as many people as you like. If a person seems to be in trouble, ask him/her if you could be of any help. If no help is required, that person will say so. Your talking to as many people as you like will spread through the network of people, thereby creating a society that is kind to people in wheelchairs or senior people as well as people with visual impairment.

Ms. Tsuji interviewing Mr. Amakawa

Expectations for Santen

What are your expectations for Santen, or things we can do?

You mentioned earlier about glaucoma being the leading cause of vision loss. I think delaying the progression to vision loss as much as possible will be very helpful. As for myself, I appreciate using eye drops because they have been useful in preserving my eyesight for a longer time.

We realized the significance of providing drugs with higher efficacy, which show maximal effect with minimum dosage frequency, and raising awareness of the importance of early detection, early treatment, and continuation of treatment, for preserving visual fields, thereby contributing to patients by helping them to maintain their vision. As a member of society, we will start by asking what we can do whenever we see someone who needs help.
Thank you for sharing your experience today.

At the reception of Santen Pharmaceutical Corporate Headquarters