Eyes of the World

January 31, 2009
An eye

Lisa Hood

Cataracts. Trachoma. Corneal blindness. They aren't killers, but they create misery for millions of people—mostly in the developing world.

How to provide proven treatments for these diseases and conditions to the people who need them was the topic of a November symposium at Duke, "Global Blindness: Integrated Approaches to a Cure." The symposium was co-sponsored by the Duke Eye Center and the Duke Global Health Institute.

Keynote speaker Gullapalli Nag Rao, distinguished chair of international ophthalmology at the LV Prasad Eye Center, in Hyderabad, India, and president of the World Health Organization (WHO) Vision 2020 program, noted that some 314 million people worldwide live with serious vision impairment—including blindness and uncorrected refractive errors like near-sightedness, and astigmatism. Some 90 percent of blind people live in low-income countries.

"The burden of blindness is most prevalent in the most neglected populations," Rao said.

Vision 2020, a global initiative for the elimination of avoidable blindness, was launched jointly by WHO and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness. Its goal is to create partnerships that can focus on effective disease control, development of human resources for eye care, and infrastructure development. Members include nongovernmental organizations, professional associations, eye-care institutions, and corporations

Throughout the day, presentations on successful programs gave reason for hope.

For example, Geoffrey Tabin, of the John Moran Eye Center in Utah, described the Himalayan Cataract Project in Nepal, which has established important surgical eye-care models being applied throughout the region.

Joseph Cook, adjunct professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, described WHO's SAFE strategy implemented in fifteen countries. The strategy combines surgery, antibiotics, face washing, and environmental change to reduce the prevalence of trachoma, the leading infectious cause of blindness in the world.