“Good health is a basic human right, especially if
the preventable affliction is confined to people who are poor, isolated,
forgotten, ignored and often without hope. Just to know that someone
cares about them can not only ease their physical pain but also
remove an element of alienation and anger that can lead to hatred
—Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter
World Sight Day, an annual event that focuses attention on global
blindness, was held this year on Thursday, Oct. 10. Sponsored by
Vision 2020, a coalition of more than 29 international organizations
including the World Health Organization, World Sight Day aims to
raise global awareness that 80 percent of blindness can be prevented
or cured. In addition, the event encourages governments, corporations
and other organizations to invest in global blindness prevention.
Of the four diseases targeted for awareness-building during World
Sight Day 2002—cataracts, trachoma, onchocerciasis (river
blindness) and childhood blindness—the Carter Center works
year-round on prevention and treatment of two: trachoma and river
Through the Global River Blindness Program, the center has assisted
in the delivery of more than 40 million treatments of the drug Mectizan
in Africa and Latin America. The center is part of a global effort
to eliminate the disease as a public health problem by 2007.
Applying experience and knowledge gained from its Guinea worm eradication
blindness control efforts, the Carter Center’s Trachoma Control
Program fights blinding trachoma in Africa and Yemen.
In honor of World Sight Day, former President Jimmy Carter participated
in an Oct. 8 media roundtable on the value of public-private partnerships
in addressing global health problems. Joining him was Raymond Gilmartin,
president and CEO of Merck & Co., which contributes Mectizan
to the River Blindness Program.
Other roundtable participants included Frank Moore, chair of Lions
Clubs International Foundation; Elizabeth Elhassan, country representative
for SightSavers Interna-
tional/Nigeria; and Mike Whitlam, CEO of Vision 2020 and the event’s
The estimated economic burden of global blindness is more than $25
billion annually. World Sight Day, through events held in dozens
of countries around the world, seeks
to increase public-private partnerships and awareness, which ultimately
will lead to effective prevention of unnecessary suffering of millions.