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Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology (AUPO ) News and Views

View from NEI: Ophthalmic Community Comes Together to Improve Health Disparities

Passage of the historic health care reform legislation elevated the existing NIH National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities to institute status. This change will greatly expand the mission to improve the health of minorities who often bear a disproportionate burden of disease.

Recently, I have had the great satisfaction of watching the eye research and clinical communities come together to address minority health care.

In spring of 2010, Rohit Varma, MD, MPH and colleagues published results from the NEI-supported Los Angeles Latino Eye Study (LALES), a large epidemiologic study to determine the incidence of eye disease and visual impairment in Hispanics. They found that Latinos have a substantially greater burden of eye disease and visual impairment than do other ethnic groups in the United States. Moreover, 60% of study participants had undiagnosed eye disease (98% of age-related macular degeneration; 95% of diabetic retinopathy; 82% of glaucoma; 57% cataracts, and 12% refractive error). Clearly, the LALES study presents a call to action.

In preparing for publication of the study, Dr. Varma contacted the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) to discuss possible new screening programs for Latinos. I was privileged to take part in a productive teleconference with AAO Executive Vice President and CEO David Parkes, MD and several staff members. From this discussion came EyeSmartTM EyeCheck, a new program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology addressing minority eye health. EyeSmartTM EyeCheck will offer screening for common eye diseases and then work with local hospitals, community clinics and health departments to arrange for treatment.

The launch of this program took place in Los Angeles on July 25th, under the direction of Anne Coleman, MD and with enthusiastic support from AUPO Executive Vice President and CEO Bartly Mondino, MD. The California Academy of Eye Physicians and Surgeons and the Los Angeles Society of Ophthalmology also participated. The ophthalmic community responded generously with 20 clinicians volunteering their clinical expertise. Many also provided free care at their offices for those without health insurance or Medi-Cal coverage. The AAO hopes to make EyeSmartTM EyeCheck a national program to improve minority eye health.

I am greatly encouraged to see the ophthalmic community rapidly integrate research findings into clinical care. This is particularly laudable given the obstacles to reducing health disparities. The vision community has provided a potential paradigm for the new NIH Institute on Minority Health. The Academy, Dr. Varma and Dr. Coleman deserve much praise for their efforts.

Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D.
NEI Director

September 2010

Department of Health and Human Services NIH, the National Institutes of Health