2020: The Year of the Eye that almost didn’t happen

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DlugossBy Mark L. Dlugoss
Senior Contributing Editor

For ophthalmologists, vision clinicians, and researchers, the year 2020 was slated as a special year—“The Year of the Eye.” Over the last 25 years, many vision associations and researchers hoped to achieve 20/20 vision by the year 2020.

While the goal of eradicating blindness has yet to be totally achieved, huge progress has been made to meet that goal. Over the years, vision care providers and researchers have worked to develop and improve innovation to achieve 20/20 vision.

There was a lot to celebrate in 2020. Over the last 75 years, researchers and industry have built a growing list of accomplishments—from Sir Harold Ridley’s discovery of intraocular lenses to Charles Kelman’s phacoemuslification machine to the latest glaucoma and retina pharmaceuticals. All of these innovations and many more continue to be improved upon to make vision care safer and better for patients. Future innovations also are bright with artificial intelligence and gene therapy to name a couple.

The celebration planned in the Year of the Eye was to highlight those accomplishments at the various eye care conferences throughout the year. Then, a ravenous, 800-pound gorilla entered the room and upturned everything, changing life as we know it.

That 800-pound gorilla was the infectious disease, known as  severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2),” or simply COVID-19.

COVID-19 had a devastating impact on clinicians, forcing them to temporarily close their offices, cut their staffs, and thus reducing revenues. When offices reopened, strict protocols, which required additional funding to implement, were established to protect patients, staff, and providers. Practices took a heavy toll because of COVID-19.

With the disease’s impact on life, all of this year’s eye conferences were either canceled or went to a virtual format.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) is one ophthalmic group that took its conference to a virtual format. Like many organizations, the AAO surprisingly presented a productive and informative conference for its members despite the lack of face-to-face intervention. 

While the AAO was able to present hundreds of hours of content, COVID-19 had a strong representation in many of the presentations and lectures delivered. You could say COVID-19 stole the spotlight from what was supposed to be the Year of the Eye.

However, the AAO wasn’t about to let COVID-19 take the spotlight and rain on ophthalmology’s celebration. Before the AAO conducted its virtual conference, it launched a campaign “to Educate, Celebrate, Inspire” the best of ophthalmology. The academy created the campaign under the label of #YearOfTheEye.

The yearlong campaign looks to focus on a “Celebration of Ophthalmology” in various approaches, including the highlights of unsung heroes in the field with articles and videos and a video series about the innovators and their groundbreaking technologies and treatments. It also honored every Laureate winner at the 2020 AAO conference.

The Year of the Eye campaign includes:

  • A series of 20 Things” articles (like 20 surprising conditions ophthalmologists can diagnose by looking into the eye);
  • Infographics illustrating eye health risks;
  • A social media campaign using video, articles, and infographics, under the hashtag #YearOfTheEye;
  • Dedication and opening the Truhlsen-Marmor Museum of the Eye, the worlds first public museum dedicated to vision and eye health;
  • National and regional media outreach to secure articles featuring AAO spokespersons.

The academy also is encouraging its members to do their part in this campaign. The AAO is providing tool kits for ophthalmologists to offer educational information and materials to patients and their communities. If you are interested in participating, please contact the AAOs Public Relations Department at [email protected].

COVID-19 may have thrown a wrench into the Year of the Eye celebration. However, this campaign presents an opportunity for vision care providers to inspire people to take better care of their vision and to educate them about the benefits of regular eye exams. It is efforts like this campaign that will bring mankind closer to that 2020 vision goal.

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