On October 11, World Sight Day 2012, thirteen domestic and international organizations from the vision community, including the American Health Assistance Foundation, joined Vision 2020/USA in hosting a U.S. 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 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.
About the American Health Assistance Foundation
The American Health Assistance Foundation (www.ahaf.org) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding cures for age-related degenerative diseases by funding research worldwide under its three programs: Alzheimer's Disease Research, Macular Degeneration Research, and National Glaucoma Research. American Health Assistance also provides public information about these diseases, including risk factors, preventative lifestyles, current treatments, and coping strategies.
To learn more about American Health Assistance-supported research, visit www.ahaf.org/research or call 1-800-437-2423. Stay connected to breaking research and medical news by signing up for American Health Assistance eAlerts at www.ahaf.org/news. To follow American Health Assistance on Twitter and Facebook visit www.ahaf.org/connect.
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Alice L. Kirkman, Marketing and Communications Manager
Last Review: 08/16/13