UNSW and Guide Dogs NSW/ACT have agreed to establish what is believed to be the world's first ocular imaging centre to offer free diagnosis and management services to the general community in the fight against blindness.

When established, the Guide Dogs Vision Centre at UNSW is expected to see up to 40,000 clients annually.

The free of charge services will target vision-impaired people in NSW & the ACT, and those with eye conditions that could lead to vision impairment, such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.

The new Centre, expected to be in operation by late 2008, will be based in the School of Optometry and Vision Science at the University's main campus in Kensington. Guide Dogs NSW/ACT will contribute $40m to the Centre's establishment and operation over a 10-year period.

"This is a remarkable and generous contribution by Guide Dogs NSW/ACT to the community," says UNSW Vice-Chancellor, Professor Fred Hilmer. "The Centre will be a hub for research, the early diagnosis of conditions that can cause vision impairment, and the management and treatment of vision-impairment. It will also provide teaching and clinical experience for students and those working in this very important area."

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Chief Executive, Mr Joseph Finucane says: "It is fitting that this organisation should take such a far reaching initiative, in its 50th year. We are unaware of any centre in the world that offers state of the art equipment of this calibre, in one location, at no cost to the community.

"We chose to take this unique approach after consulting with our clients. They indicated their support for the expansion of our services into the area of prevention, in addition to the mobility and orientation services we have traditionally offered. We are delighted to be working with UNSW on a venture of such benefit to the community," Mr Finucane says.

The Guide Dogs Vision Centre at UNSW will offer clients integrated diagnostic, monitoring and management services, with all costs paid for by Guide Dogs NSW/ACT. People are likely to be referred to the Centre by GPs and eye care practitioners.

The new Centre will also provide top-level teaching services for undergraduate and postgraduate students from a wide range of disciplines. It will have close links with nearby specialist clinical and research services.

About 100,000 people in NSW are vision impaired, including people who are blind and those whose vision is worse than the current driving standard in NSW. As many as 400,000 have eye conditions that could lead to vision impairment.

Media contacts: UNSW media, Dan Gaffney, 0411 156 015. Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, Manisha Amin, 0425 286 404