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April 2004

Blindness and Visual Impairment: A Public Health Issue for the Future as Well as Today

Arch Ophthalmol. 2004;122(4):451-452. doi:10.1001/archopht.122.4.451

People do not really go blind by the million.They go blind individually, each in his own predicament.—SirJohn Wilson, 1986

Two decades ago, Sir John Wilson described eloquently the motivationbehind organized efforts to reduce avoidable blindness and subsequent disablement.While his plea for attention to the individual plight of all affected personsremains a compelling force, it is the collective characteristics of thesestories that offer insight into strategies to interrupt the combination ofdisease and inadequate care that leads to vision loss. A public health approachto the control of blinding ocular disease can assess the magnitude and severityof the problem and help to identify these common characteristics upon whichinterventional programs are based. Descriptive epidemiologic information allowsprogrammatic efforts to be effectively targeted at the most important problemsand populations and provides data against which progress can be assessed.In this issue of the ARCHIVES, a series of articles from the Eye DiseasesPrevalence Research Group present the most accurate estimates to date on theprevalence of the major causes of blindness and visual impairment in the UnitedStates. Such population-based data are critical for program management andfor identifying areas where basic and clinical research efforts must be increasedin order to avoid a demographically induced tidal wave of chronic ocular diseaseover the next few decades.