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Vision 2020/USA Educates Capitol Hill About the State of Children’s Eye Care Around the World

Left to right: Prevent Blindness America's Chief Operating Officer Jeff Todd presents an award to Cong. Gene Green (D-TX), co-Chair of the Congressional Vision Caucus, who has promoted blindness prevention activities
Left to right: Prevent Blindness America’s Chief Operating Officer Jeff Todd presents an award to Cong. Gene Green (D-TX), co-Chair of the Congressional Vision Caucus, who has promoted blindness prevention activities
On September 16, AEVR joined its fellow vision organizations in co-sponsoring Vision 2020/USA’s second Congressional briefing, the first having been held in 2009 to recognize World Sight Day (WSD). Vision 2020/USA, a program of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), unites nearly 40 organizations dedicated to preventing blindness and assisting those with vision loss and has representation from every state and the District of Columbia.

At the briefing entitled Children’s Eye Care: Domestic and International, Cong. Gene Green (D-TX) was presented an award for his long-standing dedication to promoting blindness prevention activities at the national level. A Congressional Vision Caucus co-chair, Cong. Green is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees health, regulatory, and research issues, including authorization jurisdiction over the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Louis Pizzarello, M.D., M.P.H., Professor of Ophthalmology and Public Health at Columbia University who serves as Chairman of Vision 2020/USA and is the immediate-past Secretary General of IAPB, provided a welcome and cited statistics relating to the briefing topic-the state of children’s eye care around the world. Speaker Sandra Block, OD, PhD, a Professor at the Illinois College of Optometry, addressed domestic issues in children’s eye care. She highlighted the fact that up to 5 percent of children in the United States in the preschool age have amblyopia, strabismus and/or uncorrected refractive error. Beginning at age 12, 25 percent or more of children will have significant myopia. Despite these numbers, little funding is available for screening and treatment of these conditions. Significantly, many poor children utilize Federally Qualified Health Centers, yet very few of these provide vision services. "This is perhaps the most glaring inequality that needs to be addressed," commented Dr. Block.

Speaker Victoria Quinn, Ph.D, Head of Programming at Helen Keller International (HKI), addressed the international elements of childhood vision loss. She stated that a child goes blind every minute, and that up to 60 percent of these blind children will be dead within one year of the onset of their blindness. The blind children who survive will represent 33 percent of the entire cost of blindness during their lifetimes. Vitamin A deficiency, measles, cataract, and uncorrected refractive error are the leading causes of worldwide childhood blindness. Half of this vision loss can be prevented with simple, cost-effective measures. Dr. Quinn commented that, although programs already exist to deal with these diseases, they must be expanded. She explained that the US, through its various international development assistance agencies, provides less than $3 million dollars per year to blindness prevention in general, with a slightly higher amount provided for nutritional support. However, US domestic funding for all blindness prevention activities is not much greater at $10 million dollars per year, despite blindness and vision loss being the sixth leading cause of disability in the US and the fifth leading cause worldwide.

Dr. Pizzarello summarized by stating that, "We spend few resources on blindness prevention, yet these activities—such as vitamin A distribution, cataract surgery, and provision of glasses—are the most cost-effective interventions in medicine anywhere in the world today. We are foolish not to do more."

Briefing speakers and co-sponsors, which included speakers Sandra Block, O.D., Ph.D. (Illinois College of Optometry, far left) and Victoria Quinn, Ph.D. (Helen Keller International, far right). NAEVR’s David Epstein (second left) also attended.
Vision organizations co-sponsoring this event included:
Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (AEVR)
American Optometric Association (AOA)
Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO)
Fight for Sight
Helen Keller International (HKI)
International Eye Foundation (IEF)
Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF)
Orbis International
Prevent Blindness America (PBA)
Seva Foundation