Increased Incidence of Visual Impairment in Latinos Significantly Affects Eye Disease Burden Says Researcher at Capitol Hill Vision Health Disparities Briefing

September 10, 2004
CONTACT: James F. Jorkasky
Executive Director
[email protected]


(Washington, DC) In a Capitol Hill Briefing attended by more than 70 staff and sponsored by the Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (AEVR) on Vision Health Disparities Research, Dr. Rohit Varma, the Principal Investigator of the recently released Los Angeles Latino Eye Study (LALES), reported that Latinos have high rates of visual impairment, blindness and ocular disease, particularly diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Dr. Varma was joined by Dr. Mildred M.G. Olivier, who reported on the use of pressure reducing drops to delay or prevent glaucoma in African Americans in a subset analysis of the larger Ocular Hypertension Treatment Study (OHTS).

“Prevalence rates of visual impairment in Latinos are higher than those reported in Whites and comparable to those reported in African Americans,” said Varma, who added that “given that Latinos are the fastest growing segment of the US population, we are facing a significant increase in the burden of eye disease as the population ages.” Varma reported increased projections of from 200 to 300-plus percent in the incidence of visual impairment and eye disease in the Latino population from year 2000 to 2030. He also noted that one in five individuals with diabetes was newly diagnosed during the LALES clinical exam, and 25 percent of these were found to have diabetic retinopathy. Overall, almost half of all Latinos with diabetes had diabetic retinopathy.

While noting that African Americans are three times as likely to have glaucoma as Whites, Dr. Olivier reported that the OHTS study found that daily pressure-lowering eye drops reduced the development of primary open-angle glaucoma in African Americans by almost 50 percent. “The OHTS study is not only important because it confirmed that the risk for developing glaucoma is higher in African Americans,” said Olivier, “it was also the first study to recruit large numbers of African Americans to examine the benefit of eye drops to delay or prevent its onset.” She noted that, in addition to sponsoring such studies, the National Eye Institute (NEI) also conducts outreach and education to affected communities through its Congressionally directed National Eye Health Education Program (NEHEP).

In opening comments, AEVR Executive Director James Jorkasky thanked the Congressional Hispanic Caucus for sending a “Dear Colleague” letter to all Hill offices in support of the event. He also acknowledged that “NEI’s research to determine the extent of eye disease and vision impairment enables it to further define the scope of its future research activities and to build upon its past accomplishments of finding effective treatments and therapies to restore vision and prevent the onset of disease for all Americans.”

Both the LALES and OHTS studies were funded by the NEI and the National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities (NCMHD), two components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as well as Research to Prevent Blindness. Full LALES results appear in the June, July and August 2004 issues of the journal Ophthalmology; OHTS results appear in the June 2004 issue of Archives of Ophthalmology.

Rohit Varma, M.D., M.P.H., is an Associate Professor of Ophthalmology and Preventative Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine’s Doheny Eye Institute at the University of Southern California. Mildred M.G. Olivier, M.D., F.A.C.S., is the President and CEO of the Midwest Glaucoma Center and Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, Olympia Fields Osteopathic Hospital and Cook County Hospital.

The Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (AEVR) is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating Congress and the public about the importance of federal funding for eye and vision research. AEVR is the first organization of its kind to bring together stakeholders in the research community–including ophthalmic and optometric professionals, consumer advocates and manufacturers–to speak with a unified voice about the economic and societal value of eye and vision research.

The National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (NAEVR) is a non-profit advocacy coalition comprised of nearly 50 professional, consumer, and industry organizations involved in eye and vision research. NAEVR’s goal is to achieve the best vision for all Americans through advocacy and public education for eye and vision research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Eye Institute (NEI), and other federal research entities. Visit NAEVR’s Web site at

Left to right: AEVR Executive Director James Jorkasky; Saúl Peña of Cong. Ciro Rodriguez’s (D-TX) office (Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus); Jennifer Grodsky of Cong. Hilda Solis’ (D-CA) office (Chair, Caucus Health Task Force); and Dr. Rohit Varma.

Dr. Olivier describes NEI’s National Eye Health Education Program

Robert Alexander, an NEI intern conducting a study on health disparities and access to eye care, chats with Dr. Varma

Norman Lanphear of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) speaks with Robert Rupp and Joanne Angle of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO)