Women’s Eye Health (WEH) was formed in response to the troubling reality that two-thirds of the world’s population of blind and visually impaired persons are women. Loss of vision is a quality-of-life issue, affecting one’s ability to live independently, contribute to society, and experience life to its fullest. Up to 80 percent of blindness and visual impairment are preventable or treatable; therefore, prevention through education is one key to saving sight. WEH focuses on communication outreach to both professional and patient populations regarding healthy eye practices. As part of WEH’s mission, it strives to alert and educate women and their families at the grassroots level with the goal of empowering people to make lifestyle changes that will improve their eye health.
WEH is a 100 percent volunteer organization based at Massachusetts Eye and Ear/Schepens Eye Research Institute in Boston, MA. Its current sponsors are Harvard Medical School Department of Ophthalmology and the Allergan Foundation. WEH’s Executive Committee, Advisory Board, and chapters span both national and international organizations.
In 2013, WEH launched an updated version of its website, Women’s Eye Health.org, as well as a social media presence on Facebook. The website is available, through Google translate, in more than 55 languages. Traffic to the site has increased by more than 300 percent. Today, the website is visited by 100,000s of people annually, and the Facebook page has more than 5,000 likes.
In 2014, WEH launched Women’s Eye Health News, a biannual publication designed to communicate WEH’s mission and outreach efforts and to highlight the latest vision research on issues relating to women’s eye health. Each issue focuses on an aspect of eye health and on organizational news. Topics have included dry eye disease, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
WEH also redesigned and launched eye health education brochures, which include:
- Eye Care Provider Checklist
- A Healthy Lifestyle for Your Eyes’ Sake
- Is Your Eyesight Going Up in Smoke?
- It’s Best to Test
- Get an Eye Exam
WEH launched a Twitter feed with 126 tweets and 420 followers. It participated in two TweetChats and shared content from the WEH website and from national organizations, such as the National Eye Health Education Program (NEHEP), Prevent Blindness, and the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
On the international front, WEH has partnered with Shanghai EENT to produce a five-part television series for China Public TV. Topics include dry eye disease, glaucoma, AMD, low vision, and cataracts. The program features interviews with faculty at Shanghai EENT and the Harvard Medical School Department of Ophthalmology. At this time, WEH has three chapters in Shanghai, Beijing, and Hunan.
WEH continues to exhibit at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, targeting ophthalmic and public health professional communities. Each year, WEH hosts a luncheon for its members and like-minded organizations.
WEH plans to take its mission to the next level by forging global partnerships and continuing to develop chapters to reach women at most risk of vision loss. WEH also plans to leverage its Executive Committee and Advisory Board to conceptualize and produce public health outreach materials.
WEH’s goals are to:
- Continue being a leading source of information regarding eye diseases that are more prevalent in women.
- Raise awareness of the fact that two-thirds of those with blindness or vision impairment are women.
- Educate the public regarding good eye health practices.
- Advocate for women’s vision research and public awareness in developed and developing countries.
Women’s Eye Health News, May 2014: Dry Eye Disease
Women’s Eye Health News, November 2014: Glaucoma
Women’s Eye Health News, May 2015: AMD
Dong Feng Chen, M.D., Ph.D.