America may face a public health crisis in coming years unless drastic changes are made to the perception of eye health, according to a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM).
Taking steps to create a public conversation about the matter, Allergan has launched its See America public awareness campaign to improve this awareness of and access to comprehensive eye exams.
See America will involve a heavy social media presence with physical events aimed at tackling the fight against preventable blindness in the United States. Because many eye diseases in their early stages are undetected without an eye exam, it is critical that people of all ages receive regular eye exams.
About 61 million American adults are at risk for severe vision loss, but only 50% visited an eye-care professional in the past year, according to national data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“It’s funny—we’re all really well-versed in eye care: We live in the trenches and we’re all taking care of patients in one manner or another,” said Elizabeth Yeu, MD, Virginia Eye Consultants, and assistant professor, Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk, VA. “What we don’t understand is that in the general public, a lot of people do not recognize how delicate vision actually is.”
Dr. Yeu has partnered with the See America campaign and expressed her desire to have a smaller proportion of patients in the late-stages of eye disease.
“Earlier detection and getting those comprehensive eye exams, whatever your age may be, is going to be really important," she said. "Increasing that awareness through See America is an honorable and worthy initiative that I am really excited to be part of.”
Glaucoma, diabetes, macular degeneration, and cataracts—all preventable causes of vision loss—need to be detected before the end-stage manifestation of asymptomatic vision loss occurs, Dr. Yeu said.
The NASEM report issued a call-to-action that preventable blindness be eliminated by 2030. The report was created by a committee of experts in the field of ophthalmology, optometry, health policy, education, and geriatric medicine.
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Uncorrectable vision impairment currently affects about 8 to 16 million people in the United States, and that number may double by 2050, according to the report.
In addition, 63% of the 142 million Americans over the age of 40 have vision problems. The economic burden of the low-ranking priority of eye health in society is expected to triple over these coming decades, per the report.
“We work day in and day out . . . in the eye health community,” said Herm Cukier, senior vice president and head of Allergan’s U.S. Eye Care Division. “We were quite struck and startled by the sheer statistics that were highlighted in that report.”
The hope is the campaign will create a viral conversation about eye health that ultimately leads people to seek out regular eye exams. The company will partner with influencers in music, art, fashion, and sports to stimulate the awareness of the need for people to take initiative, he said.
“This is a health category that is not really well understood, not really well appreciated, not spoken of, and we want to create that conversation,” Cukier said.
“Despite all the efforts that exist and all the great work that’s done, clearly there is a need to not only [to] invest more and amplify that voice, but [also] to create a different kind of approach and a different kind of dialogue," he said. "Losing sight is not a de facto, predetermined outcome. It’s not part of natural aging, and it’s something that we have the means, the capabilities, and the technologies to stop occurring.”
The campaign will have physical events starting this spring to connect the public with access to comprehensive eye exams. Expected locations for the four initial events are Columbus, OH, Houston, Raleigh, NC, and Atlanta.
“What gets me the most excited about this campaign beyond the dissemination of information . . . is getting down there and actually taking part in some of the efforts to do the screenings,” Dr. Yeu said.
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Allergan has committed to the eye-care space for more than 70 years and was originally started as an eye-care company. Its eye-care division continues to the the largest division in the organization and the area in which most scientific and clinical development investments are made within the company, according to Cukier. The company is partnering with the volunteer eye health and safety organization Prevent Blindness in its campaign efforts.
“It’s an area that we’re committed to for the long term,” he said. “We’re hoping that many others join us–not only manufacturers and eye-care professionals, but also policy and advocacy organizations all have to come together.”
Dr. Yeu also has high hopes for the campaign’s potential to spark the public conversation.
“As an idealist and a clinician myself, I would love to see that there are greater number who are seeking out primary eye care, and then the percentage of those we are seeing with more advances and severe stages where the damage has already occurred becomes a smaller percentage of [our patients],” Dr. Yeu said.
“At the end of the day, this is a health epidemic in the United States that deserves more awareness, more attention, more engagement, more action, more voices, and more creative innovation,” Cukier said. “See America is one of many initiatives that are required around the country.”
To learn more about the campaign, or to get involved, visit https://www.seeamerica.vision.