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    Government Initiative Brings Vision Loss Into Focus

    WebMD Health News

    June 23, 2000 -- Like the Joni Mitchell song says, "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." This is particularly true of good vision. It's easy to take seeing well for granted, but once your sight is lost, it cannot be restored to what it once was.

    That National Institutes of Health (NIH) has included vision objectives in its "Healthy People 2010" initiative to look at ways to improve the eye health of Americans. This is the first time the Healthy People initiative, a public health awareness program begun in 1979, has included a comprehensive chapter on vision.

    "The addition of vision objectives to Healthy People is a real milestone and gives vision a prominent place on the public health agenda," says Carl Kupfer, MD, in an NIH news release. "Our long-term investment in clinical and basic vision research demonstrates that vision plays a significant role in the nation's public health." Kupfer is director of the National Eye Institute, which is part of the NIH.

    The vision objectives aim to improve vision through prevention, early detection, treatment, and rehabilitation. These objectives include encouraging more early vision screening for children age 5 and younger and reducing uncorrected vision due to eyeglass prescription errors. Other goals include reducing visual impairment due to diabetic retinopathy (when blood vessels in the back of the eye begin to leak into the retina, the film-like layer in the back of the eye), glaucoma (an increase in pressure in the eye that can gradually destroy sight), or cataracts (a clouding of the lens of the eye). Increasing the use of visual rehabilitation devices for people who have reduced or no vision is also on the list of objectives.

    The initiative calls visual impairment "one of the 10 most frequent causes of disability in America."

    "If the guidelines are to get people to go out into the community and give talks [and] screenings, those kinds of things would be very helpful," George Pronesti, MD, tells WebMD. Pronesti is the national medical director of the Kremer Laser Eye Center headquartered in King of Prussia, Pa.

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