WGD aims to make a difference, glaucoma advocate says

Scott Christensen, president and chief executive officer of The Glaucoma Foundation and the World Glaucoma Patient Association, has been a key advocate of World Glaucoma Day. Ophthalmology Times asked him to explain the need for such focused attention on glaucoma.

How was the idea of WGD started?

Every country seems to do its own thing [to generate awareness]. In many countries they don't do anything. January is Glaucoma Awareness Month [in the United States]. In Australia, they [set aside] a week in October. The feeling, basically, was [what] if we were to come up with a uniform day [when] we could encourage countries that weren't doing anything to jump on the bandwagon? Why not bring it together? In the United States, we have not abandoned Glaucoma Awareness Month, but are making that an add-on.

Why was March 6 chosen? Will it always be that date?

March 6 was chosen this year [since] it coincides with the American Glaucoma Society (AGS) meeting in Washington, DC. Wouldn't it be more powerful to have AGS members on the Hill saying 'we're here for the AGS meeting and it's World Glaucoma Day?'

It's not going to be perfect, and we want to make as much progress as we can. We will continue well past March 6, 2008, to build this and make it something special.

What do you hope will come from WGD?

This is a wonderful idea because we believe it's going to make a huge difference around the world. It's going to create awareness and unity around a common purpose. The word has to get out in a much larger way about appropriate and timely eye care and glaucoma as part of it.

Aside from raising awareness among potential patients, what other benefits are there?

Not only does WGD create awareness for individuals, but also for groups within countries. There are 75 national glaucoma societies-this also encourages the establishment of them in the other countries of the world. WGD assists in letting people know that getting together is more powerful than doing things individually. In Ghana there's no society, but some physicians are operating independently. If they would get together and share ideas, they could make a huge difference, which they couldn't do individually.

What can ophthalmologists do to promote glaucoma awareness?

The most obvious one is doing physical screenings. As long as you publicize it, it's worthwhile. If you just have it there as a public service, it's not going to have the impact you're looking for. It's not easy to do because it's labor intensive, but it's not difficult to figure out.

Another one is to have lectures on glaucoma in general. Most ophthalmologists around the world remain as generalists, so they can be very good ophthalmologists, but not great on individual diseases. To have a lecture for general ophthalmologists can be very, very productive.

Thirdly, create materials to be distributed in hospitals, clinics, and physician offices.