World Glaucoma Day 'successful beyond expectations'

May 1, 2008

The first World Glaucoma Day was held March 6. The World Glaucoma Association (WGA) and the World Glaucoma Patient Organization (WGPA) sponsored the observance. The Ophthalmology Times Group was the official news source of the event, providing e-newsletter coverage of the awareness and educational activities organized by glaucoma institutions and local patient support groups worldwide.

Key Points

As the official news source of the event, the Ophthalmology Times Group provided e-newsletter coverage of the awareness and educational activities organized by glaucoma institutions and local patient support groups worldwide. Volunteers from more than 60 countries held screening events, provided information about this second-leading cause of preventable blindness, and lobbied government authorities for recognition and a commitment to work toward eradicating the disease. In all, more than 1,000 events were planned in conjunction with the observance, according to George N. Lambrou, MD, one of the day's organizers.

"These events were organized without financial support, during the spare time [and frequently at the expenses] of the organizers: [there is] no doubt that the will to tackle the glaucoma pandemic is real and widespread," the organizers said in a statement released on the event's official Web site, http://www.wgday.net/.

"The explosive rate of response in [recent] weeks proved that the day was successful beyond expectations," Dr. Lambrou said.

The groups decided to merge all of the various glaucoma-awareness activities into a single day to increase awareness of the sight-threatening disease. According to Dr. Lambrou, experts have predicted that by 2020, 80 million people worldwide will have glaucoma, and 11 million of these will be bilaterally blind.

In developed countries, only 50% of those with the disease are aware they have it, and 90% or more of people with glaucoma in underdeveloped countries are unaware they have the disease or have even heard of it.

On World Glaucoma Day, several governing authorities-including the White House, and the mayors of New York City and Perth in western Australia-proclaimed March 6 to be World Glaucoma Day, and the Federal Government of Canada officially recognized it, the organizers said. In Antigua, the prime minister participated in a march.

"These are amazing achievements for a zero-base, zero-budget initiative that sprang from the will and enthusiasm of a handful of people, and that sparked responses from all the expected but, more often than not, the unexpected parts of the world," the organizers said on the Web site. "The warmth and multitude of these responses make us confident that next year, building on this first experience, we will be able to bring World Glaucoma Day to new heights."

More than 100 people participated in a lobbying effort to talk with representatives in the U.S. Congress, prior to the start of the annual meeting of the American Glaucoma Society (AGS) in Washington, DC, according to James Jorkasky, executive director of the Rockville, MD-based National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research.

"I thought it was an incredible success," Jorkasky said.

The lobbying effort was held under the leadership of AGS President Robert N. Weinreb, MD, Hamilton Glaucoma Center, University of California, San Diego, and AGS Advocacy Day co-chairpersons, Ted Krupin, MD, Northwestern, and Anne L. Coleman, MD, PhD, Jules Stein Eye Institute, University of California, Los Angeles. Members promoted glaucoma awareness, encouraged co-sponsorship of a bi-partisan resolution declaring March 6 as the first-ever World Glaucoma Day, and stressed the need for a 6.6% increase in 2009 funding for the National Institutes of Health and the National Eye Institute, Jorkasky said.

"Although many of the AGS members had not previously visited Capitol Hill, they were articulate and effective advocates with a powerful message," he said.

Also, congressional representatives and aides had an opportunity to be screened for glaucoma.

"I always find the actual screenings to be valuable because there are not only one-on-one discussions but the opportunity . . . to learn what's going on," Jorkasky said.

On April 23, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution recognizing World Glaucoma Day, supporting the work of the National Eye Institute, and praising the AGS for its efforts to "expand awareness of the prevalence and economic burden of glaucoma." Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Pete Sessions (R-TX) authored the resolution (H.Res. 981).