World Glaucoma Day focuses attention on disease awareness

Ophthalmologists in the United States and in more than 34 countries around the globe united on Thursday, March 6, as part of World Glaucoma Day to alert people to the devastating effects of glaucoma and the importance of having their eyes examined.

Washington, DC-Ophthalmologists in the United States and in more than 34 countries around the globe united on Thursday, March 6, as part of World Glaucoma Day (WGD) to alert people to the devastating effects of glaucoma and the importance of having their eyes examined.

Led by four ophthalmologists in conjunction with the World Glaucoma Association (WGA) and the World Glaucoma Patient Association (WGPA), the effort aims to make more people aware that glaucoma is a blinding disease that largely can be prevented and treated.

George N. Lambrou, MD, of the Athens (Greece) Institute of Ophthalmology said the incidence of glaucoma-related blindness is "infuriating."

"Glaucoma has reliable diagnostic methods and cheap and effective treatments, so that the incidence of glaucoma-related blindness could be significantly reduced if only patients would know about it and would care about getting screened and treated adequately," Dr. Lambrou said. "It is not an exaggeration to say that the main reason for glaucoma blindness is oversight, or-to be more provocative-sheer ignorance!"

More than 300 events took place at more than 50 sites, according to Dr. Lambrou, who also is the executive vice chairman of the WGPA Physician Liaison Committee.

The day also marks the beginning of the American Glaucoma Society meeting in Washington, DC. The meeting runs through March 9 at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

Before the meeting began this afternoon, participants visited House and Senate representatives in the morning morning and urged them to make glaucoma diagnosis and treatment a priority, especially for those in high-risk groups. The Advocacy Day visits coincided with an educational luncheon briefing and screening at the House Rayburn building. AGS President Robert N. Weinreb, MD, welcomed attendees and explained that, with early detection, blindness can be prevented in 90% of cases. He stressed that individuals with known risk factors-those over the age of 40, especially African Americans and Hispanics, as well as anyone with a family history of the disease-should have regular, comprehensive eye examinations that include careful evaluation of the optic nerve and measurement of eye pressure.

Screenings were made possible by the donation of diagnostic equipment from Carl Zeiss Meditec Inc., Heidelberg Engineering, Reichert Inc., and Ziemer Ophthalmic Systems.

Joining an international effort to raise awareness about the threat of glaucoma, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg officially proclaimed March 6, 2008 as World Glaucoma Day in New York City.

The proclamation from Mayor Bloomberg stated, "Drawing on the collective strength of patient support groups, medical professionals, and glaucoma institutions across the globe, World Glaucoma Day will help countless individuals avoid the preventable vision loss that arises from this prevalent disease. I commend the World Glaucoma Association and the World Glaucoma Patient Association for initiating this crucial public awareness campaign."

"World Glaucoma Day is an opportunity to pay heed to the terrible impact ofglaucoma, which is the second most common cause of preventable blindnessworldwide," said H. Dunbar Hoskins Jr., MD, executive vice president of theAmerican Academy of Ophthalmology. "Understanding the risk factors for glaucoma is an important step in ensuring that the disease is detected and treated."

"The only way to detect glaucoma before it causes blindness is through eyeexaminations," said Anne Coleman, MD, clinical correspondent for the academy and professor of ophthalmology in the Jules Stein Eye Institute of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Fifty to 75 percent of Americans with glaucoma and vision loss are unaware that they have the disease, but if detected early, vision loss can be prevented."

The National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (NAEVR) posted a section on its Web site at www.eyeresearch.org dedicated to the first World Glaucoma Day.

Around the globe, some ophthalmologists planned free laser treatments. One physician is running in the Geneva, Switzerland, marathon under the colors of the WGA. A Colombian physician will provide free laser treatments to poor patients. Three countries-St. Kitts-Nevis, Dominica, and Antigua and Barbuda-issued commemorative postage stamps, and Israel used a special cancellation logo for all letters mailed today.

According to Dr. Lambrou, glaucoma specialists have predicted that by 2020, 80 million people worldwide will have glaucoma, and 11 million of these will be bilaterally blind.

In developed countries, only 50% of those with the disease are aware they have it, and 90% or more of people with glaucoma in underdeveloped countries are unaware they have the disease or have even heard of it. Despite the challenges ahead, ophthalmologists around the world are not giving up. Robert Ritch, MD, a co-chairman, WGPA Physician Liaison Committee, said WGD is one more attempt by physicians to grab the attention of those who might have the disease.

"The only thing I can think to do is to keep trying to create awareness in people," said Dr. Ritch, professor of clinical ophthalmology; chief, Glaucoma Service; and surgeon director, New York Eye and Ear Infirmary.

In addition, Dr. Lambrou said the World Glaucoma Association will also announce two initiatives-"No More than Twenty by Twenty-Twenty"-a program aimed at reducing the rate of undiagnosed glaucoma from 50% to 20% by the year 2020 and a "Glaucoma Patient's Bill of Rights" aimed at educating glaucoma patients on the disease and treatment options available to them.