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World Sight Day 2012 Congressional Briefing Highlights Collaborations In Vision Research and Blindness Prevention Activities

Left to right: Speakers Gyan “John” Prakash, Ph.D., M.B.A. (National Eye Institute, NEI) and John Crews, D.P.A. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC) with Mark Ackermann (Lighthouse International), who serves as Chairman of Vision 2020/USA and welcomed attendees
Left to right: Speakers Gyan “John” Prakash, Ph.D., M.B.A. (National Eye Institute, NEI) and John Crews, D.P.A. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC) with Mark Ackermann (Lighthouse International), who serves as Chairman of Vision 2020/USA and welcomed attendees
On October 11, World Sight Day 2012, thirteen domestic and international organizations from the vision community (see box below) joined Vision 2020/USA in hosting a Congressional Briefing entitled From Vision Research to Vision Loss Prevention. Vision 2020/USA, a program of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), organized this US-based event, which was held simultaneously with hundreds of other events around the world to raise public awareness about blindness and vision impairment as major public health issues and to educate policymakers and the public to support blindness prevention programs. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 285 million people worldwide live with low vision and blindness-80 percent of which is preventable with proper treatment, if it can be accessed.

Collaboration was the theme of the event, as representatives of two “sister” agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) spoke about their collaborations on state, national, and international bases—Gyan “John” Prakash, Ph.D., M.B.A., who serves as the Associate Director of International Programs at the National Eye Institute (NEI) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and John Crews, D.P.A., a Health Scientist with the Vision Health Initiative in the Division of Diabetes Translation at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). NEI focuses on research—which it funds through its extramural program at academic institutions and conducts through its intramural program at the NIH’s laboratories and Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, while CDC is focused on the population health perspectives of vision loss and its prevention. NEI-funded research on eye diseases and potential therapies drives CDC initiatives to characterize diseases in the population and develop prevention strategies.

Dr. Prakash noted that NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. has identified global health initiatives as one of his top five NIH priorities, which provides invaluable scientific benefits and serves an important purpose as the US’s health diplomacy with the world. Accordingly, the NEI’s Office of International Programs has adopted the philosophy that “Good eye research anywhere is good eye research everywhere.” While the majority of NEI’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 budget of $703 million underwrites research at academic medical centers in the US, it also supports international research through more than 50 collaborations, partnerships, and affiliations. As a result, NEI supports 26 grants and 36 foreign research sites in 15 countries. Additionally, NEI supports programs that train young vision scientists from around the world. “Many past NEI-trained scientists have returned to their home countries, where they have become thought leaders who are driving vision research that is benefitting the world,” said Dr. Prakash.

Dr. Crews described CDC’s public health approach to vision loss prevention-assessing the extent of blindness and vision loss, determining which populations are affected, and evaluating and implementing effective prevention strategies. He described how CDC has been working collaboratively with 23 states through the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), which includes a vision module in which individuals report on visual function, eye disease, and access to eye care. “The BRFSS has been a valuable tool to better understand behaviors and their relationship to other factors, such as cost and access to eye care, that that can affect vision health,” said Dr. Crews. He concluded by identifying the management of multiple chronic conditions as a major CDC public health challenge, especially due to the aging of the population. This is especially true for vision, which may be affected by other chronic disease conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. “We will need to better understand vision loss prevention strategies in light of these other chronic conditions,” he concluded.

The World Sight Day Congressional Briefing was the third in a series of briefings held by the vision community in the September-October 2012 timeframe, including a September 13 Low Vision and Vision Rehabilitation briefing and an October 20 International Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) Awareness Week briefing.

World Sight Day Briefing Co-Sponsors included:
Alliance for Eye and Vision Research
American Academy of Ophthalmology
American Health Assistance Foundation
American Optometric Association
Assoc. for Research in Vision and
   Ophthalmology
Fight for Sight
Helen Keller International
International Eye Foundation
Lighthouse International
Lions Clubs International
Optometry Giving Sight
Prevent Blindness America
SEVA Foundation
Dr. Prakash speaks with co-sponsor Michael Duenas, O.D. (American Optometric Association, not pictured above)
Dr. Prakash speaks with co-sponsor Michael Duenas, O.D. (American Optometric Association, not pictured above)
Co-sponsor James Jorkasky (AEVR) introduced the speakers, noting how two “sister” DHHS agencies-NEI and CDC-collaborate to protect Americans’ vision health
Co-sponsor James Jorkasky (AEVR) introduced the speakers, noting how two “sister” DHHS agencies-NEI and CDC-collaborate to protect Americans’ vision health
Co-sponsors Suzanne Gilbert, Ph.D. (SEVA Foundation) and John Barrows (International Eye Foundation)
Co-sponsors Suzanne Gilbert, Ph.D. (SEVA Foundation) and John Barrows (International Eye Foundation)
Co-sponsors Lester Marks (Lighthouse International) and Robert Copeland, M.D. (Howard University, representing the American Academy of Ophthalmology)
Co-sponsors Lester Marks (Lighthouse International) and Robert Copeland, M.D. (Howard University, representing the American Academy of Ophthalmology)
Co-sponsor Nick Kourgialis (Helen Keller International) with Dr. Crews
Co-sponsor Nick Kourgialis (Helen Keller International) with Dr. Crews
Left and right: Co-sponsors Victoria Sheffield and Ralph Helmsen, Ph.D. (International Eye Foundation) with Dr. Prakash
Left and right: Co-sponsors Victoria Sheffield and Ralph Helmsen, Ph.D. (International Eye Foundation) with Dr. Prakash