DURBAN, South Africa, October 11, 2011 /PRNewswire/ --
Australian Professor, Brien Holden, and South African Professor, Kovin Naidoo, are recognised as global four-star generals in the war on avoidable blindness and vision impairment in developing communities. With an army amassed in the last 13 years of locally trained and based eye care workers on the ground in locations in which they work (429 sites and Vision Centres at last count), they have fought and won battles with governments and institutions worldwide to reduce the number of those in need of eye care.
Sadly, the battle rages on. There are 670 million people still in need of care today.
Surely by now the battle fatigue must be slowing them down, you might think. Surprisingly, "no", is the answer and, what's remarkable, they look rested and ready to start again.
So how do you tackle an enemy that size and sustain the fight long enough to make a difference?
The patient pair will fire the next shot simultaneously to raise US$4billion to do enough training, enough eye examinations and supply enough spectacles to permanently stem the tide. On World Sight Day this year on 13 October, Holden and Naidoo will demand that governments and institutions stop ignoring the simplest eye care problem to correct - refractive error. The term refractive error encompasses myopia (short sightedness), hyperopia (long sightedness) and the biggest concern - presbyopia (the need for reading glasses which affects everyone over the age of 45 years). When left untreated, refractive error can cause vision impairment and blindness, drastically reduce educational and employment opportunities and can often lead to poverty.
Holden and Naidoo work for the International Centre for Eyecare Education (ICEE), an international non-government development organisation that started in Australia thanks to the work of a group of successful researchers on the campus of the University of New South Wales in Sydney and their collaborators who made a bit of money on contact lens development. The early group, which survived to become the Brien Holden Vision Institute and Vision CRC, decided to reinvest in research and team up with anti-apartheid activist and optometrist Kovin Naidoo in Africa, to develop new ways of providing eye care to the poorest of the poor in developing communities. ICEE, Vision CRC and Brien Holden Vision Institute now work closely to develop eye health and vision care research, education and public health initiatives.
CEO of ICEE, Professor Brien Holden says current ICEE initiatives are moving forward rapidly to address the global problem. "The good news is we know solutions are there and in the long term we are seeing progress", he said. "We are continuing to focus on building sustainable capacity in each region and believe that to achieve the scale of progress needed, efforts must to be scaled up, ultimately creating a balance of local entrepreneurial development and increased private and public partnerships to compliment and strengthen the existing government or non government infrastructure."
The global cost of uncorrected refractive error is daunting. A study published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization in June 2009 estimated the global economy loses I$269 billion(1) in productivity annually due to vision impairment caused by uncorrected refractive error. Blindness and low vision are public health problems that are set to increase with demographic trends unless there is additional intervention. A second paper is expected to be published in early 2012 to expand on the global cost to correct refractive error.
Professor Kovin Naidoo, Global Programmes Director is never afraid of a challenge. "ICEE is fostering new partnerships and programmes in Africa, China, India, Pakistan, Middle East and South America," he said. "With over 1.1 billion people in India and 1.3 billion in China alone, together approximately one third of the world's population, the importance of building capacity in these vastly populated regions cannot be understated."
ICEE has screened, examined and treated in excess of 1.7 million patients. But it is the ICEE education programmes in each country for which Naidoo is most proud. "We have trained more than 37 500 eye care personnel and established or assisted with the development of 14 Schools of Optometry in some of the poorest countries in the world," he said. "It is capacity building that creates sustainable systems - local people trained to eventually teach more local people to then provide ongoing services to the population - that's what we aim to achieve wherever we work. But developing Schools of Optometry and training personnel in existing health care systems is what we need to desperately accelerate if we are to live in a world where one day we all have equal access to eye care."
In Africa where ICEE has been forging ahead building sustainable eye care services for more than a decade, nineteen new vision centres were opened over the last year and a milestone was reached in Eritrea, when the first group of optometry technicians completed their training and graduated.
SEE MORE OF THE WORLD photo gallery:
ICEE will celebrate World Sight Day in 23 countries this year. Highlights include: Australia - Darwin eye promotion at the markets "Get your eyes checked" and vision screenings to follow. Cambodia - Screening in collaboration with IRIS in Phnom Penh. Malawi - Festival day including a Ministry of Health guest of honour, Cane Walk by invited guests, presentations by visually impaired, scheduled cataract surgeries and vision screenings. Mozambique - Open Day Ceremony at Universidade Lurio celebrations include presentations, low sight games, vision screening, laboratory tours, music and dance. Nigeria - Talk show featuring Vision Centre activities and community eye screenings. Papua New Guinea - outreach screening programs to local schools and women's groups from ICEE Vision Centres. Pakistan - In Islamabad ICEE is supporting the establishment of the CCTV lab for children with low vision which will be inaugurated on WSD and the Pakistan Optometric Association is undertaking the assessment and screening of children with low vision. In Karachi, joint celebrations with local partners and guests of honour the Provincial Health Secretary, including seminar, screening and assessment of low vision for school children. Sri Lanka - Kegalle District will run a community screening programme. A media seminar will take place at the Health Education Bureau featuring Eye Health Promotion drama performed in Sinhala language, theme "Get your eyes checked". Colombo District launch of vision screening for drivers of school transport services at National Eye Hospital, Colombo. South Africa - Community eye awareness activities in local schools. Tanzania - Launch of new Vision Centre. Uganda - Launch of Vision Corridors in Mbale District followed by a screening exercise. Vietnam - Launch and ratification of Vietnam Australia Vision Support Program (VAVSP), supporting development of eye care services for school children in the Ba Ria Vung Province.
Editor's Notes: International Centre for Eyecare Education (ICEE pron. "I See") is a global non-profit, non-governmental organisation. In the last thirteen years ICEE has delivered sustainable eye care services, education and training programmes in more than 53 countries. ICEE is focused on the elimination of uncorrected vision impairment and avoidable blindness by developing eye care solutions within communities in most need, thereby improving opportunities in education, employment and quality of life. ICEE is supported by the Brien Holden Vision Institute and Optometry Giving Sight. For more info, visit our website: http://www.icee.org
Vision impairment is unequally distributed worldwide; about 87% of visually impaired people live in developing countries, 82% of all people who are visually impaired are aged 50 and older (although they represent only 19% of the world's population), and women are significantly more likely to be visually impaired than men, in all regions of the world and at all ages.
(1)The international dollar (I) is a hypothetical unit of currency with the same purchasing power that the U.S. dollar has in the United States at a given point in time. It shows how much a local currency unit is worth within the country's borders. Conversions to international dollars are calculated using purchasing power parities (PPP). If all the dollars were to be spent in the USA, then I$1 = 1USD.
Authors: TST Smith, KD Frick, BA Holden, TR Fricke & KS Naidoo. TST Smith was supported by an award from the US-UK Fulbright Commission; BA Holden and TR Fricke were both supported by a Blindness Prevention Grant from the Brien Holden Vision Institute, Australia.
South African Contact: Kovin Naidoo, Global Programme Director ICEE.
Email: email@example.com Tel: +27 31 202 3811 Mobile: +27-83-777-4293
SOURCE International Centre for Eyecare Education