The National Institutes of Health (NIH) today announced the signing of a United States-India Statement of Intent for collaboration on expansion of vision research. The agreement, signed by Dr. Maharaj K. Bhan, Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) in India, and Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni, Director of the National Institutes of Health in the United States, symbolizes an increased commitment to joint collaborations on eye disorders.
"Our scientific collaborations with colleagues in India are strong. Through this agreement, they will become even stronger," said Dr. Zerhouni. "With the rising global burden of disability and suffering posed by eye disorders, partnerships such as the one we forged today are increasingly critical."
Dr. Bhan said, "The leaders of India, the world's largest democracy, are striving to improve the eye health of our people. We are very concerned about the toll of many vision disorders on our well-being. Through this collaboration, we are confident that India will gain important new knowledge for the protection of sight and for the prevention of vision loss."
Eye disorders are responsible for 3.1 percent of the global burden of disease, according to The World Health Report 2003 produced by the World Health Organization. These disorders rank ninth in Global Disease Burden, behind such diseases as HIV/AIDS, malaria and perinatal conditions. Worldwide, more than 37 million people are blind. In India, the number is more than 12 million; in the United States, over 1 million. The societal cost of visual disorders and disabilities in the United States exceeds $67 billion. For India, the World Bank committed nearly $100 million to cataract blindness control programs from 1994 to 2001.
One of the most challenging issues is comparative genomics and the role of environment on gene expression. There is the need to understand how the same genetic defect leads to differing degrees of severity of eye disorders across the globe. Studying this requires populations with genetic and environmental diversity and cannot be satisfactorily attempted within the confines of one country alone. India and the U.S., each with its multiple ethnicities, are natural partners in this endeavor.
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