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November 1, 2013

SUNY Community Provides Record-Breaking Support for World Sight Day

For the first time in its history, the SUNY College of Optometry celebrated World Sight Day on October 10. World Sight Day (WSD), which is sponsored by the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness and supports World Health Organization programs designed to eradicate avoidable blindness, is specifically designated to raise awareness about international vision impairment. WSD has been celebrated around the globe on the second Thursday of October since 2007.



This year WSD concentrated on universal eye health in coordination with the launching of a new, multi-year World Health Organization action plan aimed at the prevention of avoidable blindness around the world. The College focused on this theme and used it as an opportunity to create a positive sense of community as well as to raise funds to support various programs that prevent blindness globally. Additionally, SUNY Optometry took part in Optometry Giving Sight’s “World Sight Day Challenge,” the largest annual global fundraising campaign designed to address avoidable blindness caused by uncorrected refractive error.

In preparation for the day, student organizers facilitated a T-shirt drive with shirts designed specifically by Optometry Giving Sight. Student leaders aimed to get as many members of the SUNY Optometry community to wear the shirts as possible on October 10 and the initiative proved to be successful. In fact, the 184 shirts that SUNY sold eclipsed all of the other schools and colleges of optometry, setting a new World Sight Day Challenge record in the process. The sea of T-shirt at SUNY—in the College and throughout the University Eye Center—on October 10 also contributed to a remarkable sense of community and solidarity and helped raise awareness of preventable vision impairment.

To further engage patients in the clinic and visitors to the College, a table was set up in the lobby of SUNY’s midtown Manhattan building. Free magnets and stickers were offered to visitors to commemorate the day. Information about global vision impairment was also distributed along with an opportunity to make a donation.

During the day SUNY students also had the opportunity to participate in a “Guess the Spectacle Rx” contest for a small donation.  The contest served not only as a fundraiser, but also as a fun way for students to hone their clinical skills. Fourth-year student Matt Bovenzi was the winner.  

The day’s main event included two speakers, Dr. Christine Melton and Ms. Donna Campbell, from the Aravind Eye Foundation who spoke to the community about the Aravind Eye Care System, an internationally lauded eye and vision hospital headquartered in India. 

Ms. Donna Campbell, executive director of the Aravind Eye Foundation, addresses the community in the Schwarz Theater

Dr. Melton, an ophthalmologist who practices in Manhattan, founded the Aravind Eye Foundation in 2000. The foundation helps to build networks and raise money to support Aravind’s vital work in India where it has seen over 32 million patients during its nearly four-decade existence. Dr. Melton currently serves as the president of the board of directors for the foundation. Ms. Campbell is the executive director for the board and has been working with the Aravind Eye Foundation since 2011.  The Aravind Eye Care System’s mission is to end needless blindness by providing all patients with the same high quality care regardless of their ability to pay. Today, Aravind is one of the largest eye care providers in the world and its sustainable health care model, which inspired a Harvard Business School case report, has helped the institution remain successful. In addition to patient services, Aravind conducts research, capacity building and consulting as well as manufacturing ophthalmic supplies.

“We were extremely pleased to be part of SUNY's World Sight Day celebration,” Ms. Campbell said. “Every SUNY student is already helping Aravind achieve our mission of eliminating needless blindness. Every time you see a patient, you are helping someone regain or maintain sight."

During the presentation, SUNY Optometry also hosted Mr. Kyle Kilness of NYSee20/20, an organization that works to increase health literacy and access to quality eye care to New York City’s underserved populations. Mr. Kilness has partnered often with the College's Student Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (SVOSH) organization in recent years hosting vision screenings and other activities.

A reception followed the presentation in SUNY’s Center for Student Life and Learning. Various competitions and games were held during the reception and students had the opportunity to win items from TOMS, a shoe and eyewear company known for its global philanthropic activities, such as sunglass straps, posters and discount codes.

“Without a doubt, the first World Sight Day celebration at SUNY Optometry was a great success,” said Elsa Sheerer, a third year OD student at SUNY and one of the organizers of the WSD activities.

World Sight Day efforts continued at SUNY throughout the remainder of October, including during Envision New York, the College’s marquee continuing education and alumni weekend. Ms. Sheerer, who is currently the president of SUNY Optometry’s Student Chapter of the American Public Health Association, spoke to attendees about WSD, Optometry Giving Sight, and the SUNY’s celebration just a week before.