Prevent Blindness (PB) has been preserving sight and preventing blindness in the United States for more than 100 years! Established in New York in 1908, Prevent Blindness was the second national voluntary organization in the US preceded only by the American Lung Association. As Megan Webber, Co-Founder of KnowTheGlow learned, PB’s first project was addressing a blinding pediatric problem of that time. Nita Sinha, the Director of Public health for PB explained how at that time PB successfully led legislation that virtually eliminated a leading cause of blindness in infants, called ophthalmia neonatorum, an infection in the eye that begins as an infant is being born. It was discovered that administering antibiotic eye drops could prevent this disease from developing and in 1908 PB added a uniformity policy and created education to stop this form of infant blindness from occurring nationwide. Thanks to this policy and shared education, this disease no longer really exists. Since that time, PB has worked to develop education on vision screening and vision health all across the age spectrum from infants to the elderly. As Nita works more with the adult populations supported by PB she invited Donna Fishman, the Director of the National Center for Childhood Vision and Eye Health, and Kira Baldonado, Vice President of Public Health and Policy, to join the conversation on areas where KTG and PB share a common goal of education and awareness surrounding pediatric vision conditions.
Donna shared with Megan that PB has tools kits for parents that focus on how to spot some of the signs of vision impairment and to help identify what are potential risk factors (Small Steps for Big Vision can be found at Small Steps for Big Vision: An Eye Health Information Tool Kit for Parents and Caregivers – National Center (preventblindness.org)
PB also has a Children’s Vision Screening Certification Course, where a person can become certified to be a vision screener for children (learn more at Prevent Blindness Children’s Vision Screening Certification Course. Megan and Donna discussed the possible addition of KTG materials and information to be provided along with the vision screenings.
Donna explained that PB is focused on educating families on children’s vision and eye health as well as school nurses, early childhood educators, teachers, public health professionals, and primary care providers. Prevent BLindness works closely with pediatric and eye care professional associations. It is always shocking to learn that ophthalmology is an elective in medical school and not part of the required curriculum. PB tries to cast a large educational net by providing webinars, the new ECHO program (an online virtual course for primary care providers), and newsletters for school nurses, Head Start (the only program with a federal mandate for school screening), and others working with children.
At the discussion of mandates Kira jumped in to stress the importance of advocacy and of the need for guidance and accountability at the federal level. There is a need to encourage vision and eye health integration among agencies by establishing a vision presence at the federal level. PB has been integral in getting National vision care established at the NIH as well as at the CDC. PB continues to make sure work is being done to ensure funding for research and by carefully monitoring and advocating for various projects seeking federal funding. All of this work culminates in their annual event held in Washington, D.C. called “Eyes on Capitol Hill” (https://preventblindness.org/events/eyes-on-capitol-hill-2022/), an advocacy day for caregivers and patients providing them with a platform to share their stories with Congress. Donna stressed to Megan the importance of empowering all of these systems and programs and of working to identify gaps where patients might easily fall through the cracks.
Prevent Blindness is constantly looking for where and how things can be improved to improve the rate of early identification and treatment of vision disorders as well as equity in access to eye care, all for the purpose of ensuring that fewer diagnoses are missed or treatment plans abandoned. They look to find ways to improve how the systems work and look to discover more ways to encourage collaboration. PB also strives to empower the individual. Patients need to know the power of their story so that they can be stronger advocates for themselves, examples for others who will follow in their footsteps, and can make changes within their extended communities. Megan agreed wholeheartedly and shared with PB the breadth of KnowTheGlow’s global awareness through its international digital marketing campaigns but also explained KTG’s larger interest in building and strengthening perpetual awareness across the US where considerable focus is placed on community members sharing their glow stories. Additionally, the majority of KTG’s collaborative advocacy efforts span multiple platforms and digital media outlets. Through partnerships with NGOs, doctors, and researchers with aligned missions KTG has dramatically amplified its message and successfully identified and guided to care many more children in time.
Kira affirmed the value of community and shared with Megan PB’s ASPECT Program which launched in 2020 https://cvph.preventblindness.org/aspect-program/. 25 participants go through each program which includes 8-10 sessions of training on topics including what it means to be a person with a disability, how to advocate for change within your community, and even how to engage with clinical trials and research.
Recently, Megan attended the Focus on Eye Health National Summit and thoroughly enjoyed listening to the panelists discuss topics ranging from Advocacy to School Based Vision Programs and from Research Data Collection to Gap Assessment. She was heartened to learn that Prevent Blindness sees not only the whole forest but also each of its trees.
Nita, Kira, Donna, and each of the members of PB are striving to improve awareness of vision issues and the value of screening. KTG looks forward to exploring possible ways to jointly help raise awareness of preventable childhood blindness. Megan was delighted to learn more about this outstanding organization and hopes to find more ways to engage with Prevent Blindness in the future! For more information on all of the incredible programs and work PB is doing in the US, we encourage you to visit their website, https://preventblindness.org and National Center for Children’s Vision and Eye Health.