Article Date: 9/1/2009

Giving Back to the Underserved
From the AOSA

Giving Back to the Underserved

Seize the opportunity to offer eye care and treat eye disease in your community and around the globe.

By Erik Haselhorst, Secretary, AOSA

Like most optometry students, your number one priority after graduation is to put your degree to use and begin practicing medicine. Once you settle into a routine, consider giving back to the underserved. Our profession provides ample opportunities for you to touch the lives of people in your community and around the world.

In this article, I'll discuss some of the organizations working with optometrists just like you to treat and manage eye disease and eliminate blindness.

Vision 2020

The World Health Organization (WHO), the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system, recently launched Vision 2020: The Right to Sight, a global initiative aimed at eliminating avoidable blindness around the world by the year 2020. The organization estimates there are 145 million people in the world who have low vision, and in most cases, their sight can be restored with a simple pair of eyeglasses.

Statistics also show there are 45 million people worldwide who suffer from blindness. And because of the aging population and poor lifestyle habits, that number could rise to 76 million by 2020. Even more staggering is that 90% of the world's blind live in third world countries.

The good news is that 80% of blindness is avoidable through early diagnosis and treatment of refractive error, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and infectious conditions such as trachoma.

Raising Awareness

One of the goals of Vision 2020 ( is to raise awareness of the growing vision problems in our communities and around the world. To that end, Vision 2020 will celebrate World Sight Day on Oct. 8, 2009. The event enables healthcare providers and educators to raise funds and spread the word about the importance of eye care and blindness prevention.

You can help Vision 2020 meet its goals by participating in World Sight Day. The WHO ( provides publications you can use to educate patients and others in your community about eye health and blindness prevention, and about the visual needs of the underserved.

Other Ways to Give Back

Here are two other organizations in which you can get involved:

Optometry Giving Sight. This organization ( is the American Optometric Association's preferred charity. It's the only global fundraising initiative that specifically targets the prevention of blindness and impaired vision due to uncorrected refractive error. The program provides funds for projects offering eye care to underserved regions.

VOSH/International. This is a program that facilitates the provision and sustainability of vision care worldwide to people who can't afford or obtain care. VOSH ( volunteers participate in mission work around the world. They diagnose, treat and manage eye disease, and provide eyeglasses.

More Blessed to Give

As you begin your career, you'll encounter many new and exciting experiences. One of the ways to add depth and richness to your experience is to offer eye care to the underserved in your community and around the world. You'll not only receive great personal satisfaction, but you'll gain unmatched clinical experience that will enhance your career. nOD

Erik Haselhorst graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in genetics. He is a 4th-year student at the University of Houston College of Optometry, and serves as secretary of the AOSA. You can reach him at

Optometric Management, Issue: September 2009