New York, NY, January 26, 2009 – In an effort to combat one of the leading causes of blindness worldwide, the World Glaucoma Association and the World Glaucoma Patient Organization have set March 12, 2009, as the second annual World Glaucoma Day. The day will be marked by awareness and educational events organized by eye care institutions and local patient support groups on every continent, as listed on www.wgday.net.
Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States and the leading cause in African-Americans. About 50% of persons with glaucoma in the United States are unaware that they have it, while this number can reach 90% in developing countries.
Known as “the sneak thief of sight,” glaucoma is characterized by gradual loss of vision resulting from death of the cells in the eye which transmit visual images through the optic nerve to the brain. As the optic nerve becomes increasingly damaged, permanent vision loss occurs and can result in blindness. Early detection is the key to treating and halting the effects of glaucoma.
“Because glaucoma strikes so silently and gradually, it is absolutely crucial to educate people about the value of early detection, ” said Robert Ritch, MD, professor and chief of glaucoma services at The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, co-founder of the World Glaucoma Patient Association, and member of the World Glaucoma Day committee for the World Glaucoma Association. “For a disease that causes permanent blindness, it is truly unacceptable that so many people remain unaware of its impact and consequences.”
To emphasize the universal importance of early detection, Dr. Ritch and colleagues plan a glaucoma screening for delegates and staff of the United Nations. NYEE also expects to enlist the support of elected officials to recognize the importance of this health observance.
Persons at high risk for glaucoma should have their eyes examined for the disease at least every two years by an eye care professional. Persons most at risk include those with a family history of glaucoma, African-Americans over the age of 40, people who are very nearsighted or farsighted, and all persons over the age of 60.
In the early stages of glaucoma, there may be no symptoms and vision can appear to be normal until a large amount has been lost. If undetected and untreated, glaucoma will gradually claim all peripheral vision and move on to cause total blindness. With early detection, glaucoma can be treated with eye drops to lower intraocular pressure. Other methods include laser and operative surgery. Treatment can usually halt the disease, but it cannot reverse the damage that has been done. Glaucoma can develop in one or both eyes.
The World Glaucoma Association is a global organization dedicated to the overall improvement of glaucoma science and care. Comprised of leading medical experts and institutions throughout the world, the group’s overall goal is to optimize the quality of glaucoma research and treatment through increased communication and cooperation among international glaucoma societies, industries, and patient organizations.
The World Glaucoma Patient Association is an umbrella organization which supports glaucoma associations and networks worldwide in their efforts to educate and support their members so that all people with glaucoma can understand and better manage their disease. The WGPA facilitates the establishment of glaucoma support groups in many nations and coordinates communication and cooperation between existing groups, in addition to promoting international awareness of glaucoma as a cause of preventable blindness.
For more than 30 years, Robert Ritch, MD, of The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, has devoted his career to broadening understanding by the medical profession and patients about the nature of glaucoma and innovation in medical, laser, and surgical treatment of the disease. Dr. Ritch holds the Shelley and Steven Einhorn Distinguished Chair in Ophthalmology and is Surgeon Director and Chief of Glaucoma Services at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, New York City and Professor of Clinical Ophthalmology at The New York Medical College, Valhalla, New York.
Founded in 1820, The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary is the first specialty hospital in the Western Hemisphere. It is also one of the largest providers of primary through tertiary eye care in the US. with more than 19,000 eye surgeries and 125,000 ophthalmology outpatient visits each year.
For interviews with Dr. Ritch about World Glaucoma Day, please contact Ms. Jean Thomas at NYEE, 212.979.4274, email@example.com.
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