NIH News Release
NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH
National Eye Institute

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, October 10, 2002
Contact:
Michael Coogan
(301) 496-5248

Photos, full report, and other materials available in downloadable, camera-ready format on the NEI website at http://www.nei.nih.gov/news/special/sightday.htm.

United States to Host World Sight Day Celebration October 10
National Eye Institute and Leading Vision Organizations Join Forces
to Make Vision a Public Health Priority

More Americans than ever are facing the threat of blindness from age-related eye disease. More than one million Americans aged 40 and older are currently blind and an additional 2.4 million are visually impaired. These numbers are expected to double during the next 30 years as the Baby Boomer generation ages.

With the goal of making vision a public health priority nationally and globally, the National Eye Institute (NEI), one of the Federal government's National Institutes of Health, joins the Lions Clubs International, Lighthouse International, and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness to host World Sight Day with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C. on October 10, 2002.

Eve Slater, M.D., assistant secretary of health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, kicks off the celebration at a noon (EDT) event to highlight the Department's dedication to the goals of World Sight Day and its commitment to improving eye health for all Americans.

"World Sight Day is an annual observance that showcases global commitment to prevent vision loss and blindness through early detection, treatment, and rehabilitation," Dr. Slater said. "Promoting vision health and care is the motivating force for the World Sight Day partners. We stand with our partners here, and around the globe, to demonstrate our determination in making vision a public health priority."

World Sight Day was launched by Lions Clubs International in 1998 to recognize and reinforce the importance of eradicating preventable blindness. In the five years since its inception, World Sight Day events, including cataract and glaucoma screenings, collection of used eye glasses for recycling, and distribution of educational material, have been held on six continents.

"Few Americans realize that blindness is a major and increasing problem in the United States," said J. Frank Moore III, chairman, Lions Clubs International Foundation. "Although Lions Clubs International has long been committed to eradicating preventable and reversible blindness around the world, we are focusing increased attention on working with our partners to prevent blindness and vision loss in the United States."

Lions Clubs International is marking World Sight Day by launching a major initiative to combat vision loss and diabetic retinopathy among Hispanics and others in California. Lions are mobilizing screening units and healthcare professionals to screen adults and children for diabetes, diabetic retinopathy, and general vision problems at the Montebello Senior Center (Alex Esquivel Center) in Montebello, Calif. This will kick off a major area-wide diabetic retinopathy program.

Lighthouse International, a leading resource on vision impairment and vision rehabilitation worldwide, celebrates its eighth annual National Vision Rehabilitation Day on October 10 in concert with World Sight Day. National Vision Rehabilitation Day is a public awareness campaign designed to educate Americans about the prevalence of vision impairment and the critical importance of vision rehabilitation services, counseling, and training that help people overcome the challenges associated with vision loss.

"Lighthouse International is honored to participate in World Sight Day efforts to raise awareness about vision loss and vision rehabilitation," said Barbara Silverstone, D.S.W., president and CEO, Lighthouse International. "Facing and coping with vision loss can be challenging and overwhelming. We want people to know that there are support and training services available in their communities to help those affected by vision loss."

The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) is a coordinating, umbrella organization that leads international efforts in mobilizing resources for blindness prevention activities. IAPB works collaboratively with more than 26 national and international organizations to advance its mandate of combating avoidable blindness.

"Eighty percent of the world's blindness is preventable, and that is the message we need to share on World Sight Day," said Louis Pizzarello, M.D., M.P.H., chairman, IAPB North American Region. "Vision loss and blindness have a profound effect on quality of life for people worldwide. By coming together to make vision a health priority, we are taking action and changing lives for the better."

Coordinated and implemented through the World Sight Day partners, this year's activities address visual impairment from eye diseases and refractive errors, encourage regular eye examinations for children and adults, and promote vision rehabilitation.

World Sight Day provides an opportunity to promote healthy vision in neighborhoods and communities with programs adopted at the local, state, and national levels. In keeping with its commitment to make vision a public health priority in communities nationwide, NEI has instituted a Healthy Vision 2010 Community Awards Program. Award recipients will receive funding for community-based health promotion projects designed to prevent vision loss and blindness.

"The National Eye Institute is dedicated to promoting visual health at the community level," said NEI director, Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D. "Our Community Awards Program and the model community events held during World Sight Day help empower people at the local level to actively participate in promoting and maintaining healthy vision."

To schedule day-of-event interviews, contact Michael Coogan, NEI Office of Communication, at 301-496-5248 or by email at mjc@nei.nih.gov. To find out more about World Sight Day, the Healthy Vision 2010 Community Awards Program or NEI, visit www.nei.nih.gov.

The NEI is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and is the Federal government's lead agency for vision research that leads to sight-saving treatments and plays a key role in reducing visual impairment and blindness. The NIH is an agency of the US Department of Health and Human Services.