Suriname Gains Strategy
Against Pediatric Blindness
A Miller School ophthalmologist is spearheading an effort to fast-track early vision screenings
By Janette Neuwahl Tannen
Medical intern Dr. Christina Dowell visits a clinic in Suriname as part of the Pediatric Preventable Blindness initiative, an effort led by University of Miami ophthalmologist Dr. Alana Grajewski to stem vision loss among children across the Caribbean Basin.
A few years ago, Alana Grajewski, M.D., a pediatric glaucoma expert at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, was told by a visiting ophthalmologist from the Caribbean nation of Suriname that he was unsure he would get a chance to perform the techniques Dr. Grajewski had taught him.
Some children, he told her, show up at his office in such poor condition that it is too late to repair their vision. Dr. Grajewski later learned that vision impairment and blindness is four times higher in the Caribbean than it is in the United States, and she saw an opportunity to help.
A Screening Strategy
Today, she leads the Pediatric Preventable Blindness (PPB) initiative to help eradicate vision loss in these children. Although there is no formal vision screening in Suriname until children reach the age of 5, by working with her colleagues at Bascom Palmer, other U.S. experts in the fields of ophthalmology and public health, as well as the University of Suriname, Dr. Grajewski came up with a strategy to screen children’s vision earlier — by doing it when they get their vaccines, which adds only four minutes to the family’s vaccination appointment.
“If you are able to catch something and fix it, you’re improving their ability to function in school and in the world,” Dr. Grajewski said.
After a model is working in Suriname, Dr. Grajewski wants to implement a similar PPB program in Trinidad, Jamaica and Barbados through a new partnership with the University of the West Indies.
“If you are able to catch something and fix it, you’re improving their ability to function in school and in the world,”- Dr. Grajewski
University of Miami research fellow Matthew Javitt, along with ophthalmologists Dr. Elena Bitrian and Dr. Alana Grajewski, and Dr. Denise Doelwijt, along with her medical student, Ravish Panchoe, from the University of Suriname at the Pediatric Preventable Blindness Symposium at Bascom Palmer in December. The conference brought together ophthalmology experts from across the U.S. and the Caribbean to discuss how to improve and expand the PPB initiative.