York is leading the way in the fight against blindness, a national charity chief declared at the launch of an eye health campaign by the city's three Lions clubs.

The event in St Sampson's Centre in St Sampson's Square was the start of a three-year initiative highlighting the dangers of eye disease.

David Wright, chief executive of the International Glaucoma Association, said this was the first time three Lions clubs had launched so large an event.

"York is really leading the way as far as the country is concerned. The clubs are working together and getting to the people who matter," he added.

About 900 people attended the event after it was highlighed in the Evening Press. Mr Wright said of those 40 to 50 might have glaucoma, and about half of them possibly did not know it.

"That's the danger, it creeps up, it's an insidious condition," he said. The event was also raising awareness about diabetic eye diseases and the importance of regular eye tests, particularly for those who are diabetic or over 40.

Lions' eye programme co-ordinator Stuart Marrett said in three weeks they would have a special lapel badge available which listed three tests people should have from optometrists.

Darryl Taylor, chairman of the North Yorkshire Optometric Committee, said all practices could give the tests, adding: "If you are over 60 you should be looked at every year, and it's free." Mr Marrett said all revenue from the sale of the £1 badges would go towards the £17,000 cost of buying a digital retinal camera for York District Hospital.

Hospital consultant ophthalmologist Robert Taylor said he was particularly interested in using the portable camera to examine young children's eyes, but it would also be useful for checking adults.

"It's always a great shame when you have a patient who comes too late, with advanced disease, when if it had been picked up earlier in its course their vision could have been saved," added Mr Taylor.

The former Archdeacon of York, the Ven George Austin, was diagnosed with glaucoma after a test and now used eye drops.

He said: "It's important because I realise that had I not done this I would eventually have gone blind."

Any retail outlets that can help sell the badges should call Marilyn Bennett on 01904 705044.