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ORBIS and Alcon Call Attention to the Aging Eye

World Sight Day 2008 focuses on the need to protect the eyesight of older people

NEW YORK, Oct. 9 /PRNewswire/ -- Of the 45 million people worldwide who are blind, 80 percent are over age 50, and three-quarters of them could have avoided their blindness if they had been properly diagnosed or treated.

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Alcon, the world's leader in eye care products and equipment, is partnering with nonprofit ORBIS International to remedy that situation through advocacy and skills-exchange programs essential to delivering quality eye care services. Today on World Sight Day, a global observance to stimulate greater public awareness of eye health issues, ORBIS and Alcon will continue their collaborative efforts to focus attention across the United States on the need to eliminate avoidable blindness in developing countries.

"While 71 percent of the world's elderly live in low-income countries, the risk of vision-impairing conditions increases significantly with increasing age -- whether here or abroad," said Hunter Cherwek, M.D., ORBIS International medical director. "Understanding the threat they face as they age and the steps they can take to protect their eyesight is key to preventing vision loss."

Serving the elderly population of low-income countries comes with specific challenges, such as the cost of eye care and related expenses, including transportation and support of caretakers, an ability to communicate with an older population about how to address treatable eye conditions, and a fear of eye surgery where high-tech equipment is used.

Whether as basic as an ophthalmoscope or as complex as a cataract phacoemulsification system, effective eye care depends heavily on reliable healthcare technology. This is especially important in developing countries struggling to fill long-term voids in access to eye health care and having high rates of preventable blindness.

"In many countries, the proliferation of healthcare technology has outpaced local biomedical engineers' capacity to maintain and keep it operational," says Sara Woodward, Alcon's director of humanitarian and community services. "Consequently, the potential for healthcare technology to alleviate preventable blindness is not being fulfilled, and millions are needlessly losing or living without their sight as a result."

To ensure the best possible operation and maintenance of its donated equipment, Alcon established a Volunteer Biomedical Corps. Alcon technicians participate in training programs on board the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital and through ORBIS-sponsored hospital-based programs in China, Ethiopia, India, Peru and other countries. These engineers complement the hundreds of volunteer doctors and nurses who make ORBIS' medical training possible.

Since 1979, Alcon has provided more than $8 million in ophthalmic equipment, medical supplies and financial support to ORBIS. Alcon is ensuring the growth of ORBIS' blindness prevention programs and making it possible for the organization's international medical team and cadre of volunteer ophthalmologists to teach advanced surgical techniques to doctors in the developing world.

World Sight Day is coordinated by VISION 2020: The Right to Sight, a joint initiative of the World Health Organization and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness. ORBIS is a founding member of VISION 2020.

Visit for more information on how ORBIS is addressing the problem of global blindness.

About Alcon, Inc

Alcon, Inc. is the world's leading eye care company, with sales of $5.6 billion in 2007. Alcon, which has been dedicated to the ophthalmic industry for more than 60 years, researches, develops, manufactures and markets pharmaceuticals, surgical equipment and devices, contact lens care solutions and other vision care products that treat diseases, disorders and other conditions of the eye. Alcon's majority shareholder is Nestle, S.A., the world's largest food company.

About ORBIS International

ORBIS International is a nonprofit global development organization dedicated to saving sight worldwide. Since 1982, ORBIS programs have benefited people in 86 countries, enhancing the skills of more than 195,000 health care personnel and providing eye care treatment for more than 6.8 million people.

SOURCE ORBIS International
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