This week, the House Appropriations Committee introduced legislation to fund programs under the Department of Health and Human Services in Fiscal Year (FY) 2021. The legislation, which passed the Committee with a vote of 30-22 along party lines, proposes to continue funding for vision and eye health programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at current program levels from Fiscal Year 2020, which are $1 million for Vision and Eye Health and $4 million for Glaucoma.
“We appreciate the House Appropriators’ recognition that equipping the CDC’s Vision Health Initiative with the capacity to deploy on-the-ground interventions in partnership with state and community leaders is instrumental in preventing incidents of avoidable vision loss,” said Jeff Todd, President and CEO of Prevent Blindness. “However, we cannot begin to solve our national vision and eye health problem until we have current data that helps us understand who is impacted and identifies inequities in vision health. The longer the Vision Health Initiative at the CDC operates without sufficient resources to conduct reliable public health surveillance, the worse our national prognosis on healthy vision and eye sight will become.”
Earlier this year, over 83 organizations across the vision and eye health community sent a letter to House and Senate appropriators encouraging these long-overdue investments. Currently, the CDC is using estimates of vision loss and eye disease that are over a decade old with current state and community interventions based on data that dates as far back as 1999. As our nation continues to respond to the novel COVID-19 pandemic, public health and disease surveillance is especially critical to understand how COVID-19 affects people who live with vision loss, chronic disease, blinding eye disease, or a disabling visual impairment. Many of the circumstances that surround vision loss and eye disease including chronic disease, disparities along racial and ethnic lines, socioeconomic circumstances, and age are at the intersection of COVID-19 and its most serious consequences.
“We cannot respond to the needs of patients who are living with blinding eye disease, low vision, or vision loss during this or future disease outbreaks using data that predates such trends as our rapidly aging population, skyrocketing rates of chronic disease, new stresses to our eye health such as prolonged use of smart phone technology, and rising costs and inequities in health care,” Todd said. “Not having this critical information will create gaps in our knowledge of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, and affect policy decisions on access to vision and eye health care (including through telehealth), research and treatment, and other population health initiatives.”
The House is scheduled to vote on final passage of FY2021 legislation before it breaks for August recess. As the Senate continues its work developing its Fiscal Year 2021 appropriations legislation, Prevent Blindness will continue to advocate for policies and funding that restores the surveillance capacity of the CDC’s vision and eye health programs.