Government Initiative Brings Vision Loss Into Focus
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.
So exactly what are the National Eye Institute's plans to implement these
initiatives? Obviously, just publishing some great ideas on eye care will not
improve the eye health of the nation.
Michael Davis, associate director for science, policy, and legislation at
the National Eye Institute, tells WebMD that the program is in its
organizational stage, since the Healthy People programs are forward-looking
initiatives. Healthy People 2000 was implemented in 1990. So this current
program is just beginning to organize national programs and campaigns to take
effect in 2010, and it is still very much in the planning stages.
According to Pronesti, anything that can increase awareness and bring more
people into the office to have their eyes checked is important. "You really
don't appreciate how important it can be to get things checked until you lose
vision or until something goes wrong," he says. However, with some eye
problems, if you wait until there is a noticeable change in vision, it is often