Global Myopia Awareness Coalition: Giving myopia a collective voice
While research and product innovations are underway to help slow myopia progression in kids, it has become more urgent than ever for the eyecare industry to raise awareness of myopia with one global voice, and continue to educate all health care professionals and the public on this issue. The Global Myopia Awareness Coalition or GMAC was formed in 2019 with a mission to promote public awareness of childhood myopia, and to promote awareness with governments, NGOs and other health care associations. As a GMAC member, Essilor recognizes that such collaborative industry efforts are critical to affect real change in the eye care industry.
Olga Prenat, Global Director of Education and Professional Relations at Essilor International and Chief Editor of Points de Vue, and Shilpa Yalamanchili, Professional Relations Manager at Essilor International, recently invited Matt Oerding, Co-Founder and CEO of Treehouse Eyes and GMAC Board Chairman, and Dr. Millicent Knight, GMAC Board Member and Senior Vice President, Customer Development Group, Essilor of America, to discuss the importance of global initiatives like GMAC to tackle the myopia epidemic.
What is GMAC and why is it central to addressing the myopia epidemic today?
Matt Oerding: GMAC was an outcome of discussions among several industry leaders that began in 2018. A key barrier that we discussed then was the lack of consumer awareness and understanding of myopia and its long-term eye health impact on kids. Even the allied healthcare professions were not always talking to parents about this. At the American Academy of Optometry meeting in 2018, several organizations came together to discuss collaborating on a global level and instituting an industry effort to overcome such barriers. We formed GMAC in January 2019, elected our first board, and currently have 15 organizations with a wide range of interests, but we all share one common interest and mission of educating the public about myopia and galvanizing the profession to do something about it.
Image source : https://worldcouncilofoptometry.info/global-myopia-awareness-coalition-g...
Why and how did Essilor decide to support this initiative and how has the journey been so far?
Dr. Millicent Knight: At Essilor, our mission is to improve lives by improving sight, so we always put forth a concerted effort to drive home the importance of a comprehensive eye exam to the patient. We already began efforts around raising awareness of myopia a few years ago, and even released a trailer in 2018 in theatres across the U.S. to educate parents on identifying symptoms of myopia, with a powerful call to action to schedule a comprehensive eye exam. With this in mind and considering that it was a heavy lift for any one company to build an entire category, it seemed like the right opportunity for Essilor to get involved with GMAC. I am really proud that although GMAC has a lot of organizations, including key industry players, in this instance we have all come together as an industry to drive home an important point. We need to approach myopia from a global perspective because like COVID-19, it is truly a global issue.
Could you reflect on some of GMAC’s key milestones and successes?
Matt Oerding: Our first big success was getting our structure in place and being organized under the World Council of Optometry. We then undertook our first qualitative and quantitative research effort with more than 4000 parents in the U.S. in 2019, which provided us with a comprehensive understanding of how to talk to parents about myopia in a meaningful way. Our second milestone was our first online public campaign #VisionMission launched in December 2019 with parent influencers in the U.S., which saw really strong engagement. The influencers took their child in to see an eye care practitioner, and shared their own myopia experiences with their followers. Our next key milestone is our current U.S. campaign #gameovermyopia, which has already generated millions of impressions through gaming influencers and parent influencers by discussing the importance of getting kids away from screens and playing outdoors.
Do you believe that a meaningful change can be made in how myopia is understood and both treated and managed in the future? Is this kind of an industry collaboration the key to unlock this change?
Dr. Millicent Knight: We have to work as individual companies, but we also have to work collectively. I liken this to two-week or daily disposable contact lenses. There was a time when no one disposed of a contact lens, so when disposable contact lenses were first introduced, the general thinking was that no one would throw away a contact lens. Fast forward now, almost everyone throws away a contact lens daily. It took the effort of many individual companies and also their collective effort to drive home the importance around eye health and the reasons why disposing the lens on a more regular cadence was healthier for the eyes. We are going to have to stay vigilant in the same way. We have been working with consumers, but we have to ensure that optometrists, ophthalmologists and other stakeholders such as pediatricians look at myopia with a different lens and are familiar with the new ways of treating and managing myopia as early as possible.
Matt Oerding: I would like to share a relevant analog of dentistry and go back to the 1940s, when oral care was not prioritized globally. In the 1950-1960s, the industry came together and some of the big oral care product companies collaborated with the national dentistry associations and launched a consumer campaign “brush your teeth twice a day, visit your dentist twice a year.” The campaign was also promoted through dental practices with patient material and education to dentists, and ran for more than a decade, dramatically changing consumer habits. Myopia will be a similar process and will take a decade or more to bring real change. Our goal is to accelerate that time period as quickly as we can. This requires both direct-to-consumer influence and education over a sustained period, which can only be done in collaboration with manufacturers, insurers and associations working together with one voice and through educating our eye care practitioners and changing the way they think about this.
What’s next for GMAC—in 2020 and beyond?
Matt Oerding: We will have another direct-to-consumer campaign in the U.S. this year. Our first priority in 2021 is growing the coalition by getting stronger partnerships with associations worldwide and getting more organizations onboard, to give us resources to really expand. The second one is going more global, as we recognize there is a need in other markets. The third is leaning harder into our new healthcare advisory panel and establishing a stronger relationship with other allied healthcare professionals and players, including ophthalmologists, pediatricians and school nurses.
- All eye care practitioners and other healthcare professionals such as pediatricians should be familiar with the new ways of managing myopia in children, to help them avoid the long-term ocular complications that might come later on.
- Real change requires both direct-to-consumer communication and education over a sustained period, done in collaboration with eye care manufacturers, insurers and associations, and through educating eye care practitioners and changing the way they think about this.
- In 2021, GMAC plans to grow by getting stronger partnerships with associations, focusing on other key markets, and leveraging its new healthcare advisory panel to establish a stronger relationship with ophthalmology, optometry, pediatricians, school nurses and other players.