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Saving sight. Changing lives.

CERA Profile – Dr Van Lansingh

Then: PhD student, supervised by Professors Jill Keeffe OAM and Hugh Taylor AC (1998 to 2002)

Now: Regional director of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) VISION 2020 (V2020): “The Right to Sight” Latin America program in Miami, FL.

Affiliated with the University of MelbourneUniversity of Melbourne Logo

Questions:

1. Tell us about your current position.

Since 2004, I have been the regional director the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) VISION 2020 (V2020): “The Right to Sight” Latin America program in Miami, FL. I coordinate the V2020 technical subcommittees, participate in various regional and international meetings, provide technical expertise to different stakeholders, organize the annual meeting of the Latin American Regional working group, promote activities related to World Sight Day, and am the chair of the IAPB Research Working Group.

I concurrently am a voluntary professor in ophthalmology at the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami as well as in the International Outreach Program of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Tennessee.

2. What do you enjoy most about your current job?

My job requires a lot of commitment and sacrifice with heavy international travel, but it is so rewarding to see the difference that has been made in the fight against blindness in Latin America. Cataract surgical rates have increased impressively throughout the region, the most number of epidemiological studies in ophthalmology have been done in Latin America, and every country has a national committee and plan for the prevention of blindness. Collaboration and partnership continue to increase as more and more comprehensive and sustainable eye care programs are organized and expanded throughout the region. Most importantly, it is knowing the difference our work in the prevention of blindness has made on the thousands of Latin Americans who represent the most under-served population in their communities and who have received the gift of sight.

3. How different is the work you are doing today compared to that you were doing at CERA?

At CERA, I worked in advocacy and eye disease control and prevention at a country’s regional scale (in Aboriginal communities in Central Australia). Today, I do the same for all of Latin America, and I often assist with international activities or projects in other regions of the globe.

4. How has your time at CERA impacted on your career and what you’re working on today?

CERA has had great impact on my career today. The outstanding faculty support of the professors, who are the leading international experts in the prevention of blindness, has inspired me and helped me pursue the amazing opportunities that I have had since leaving CERA. At CERA, I focused on a specific eye disease control and prevention in indigenous communities of one country, and I also worked with fundraising, grant-writing, donor relations, and partnerships for blindness prevention, which today I now do at a more global scale with the IAPB and V2020. CERA also provided me with solid research experience in ophthalmology and community eye health, which has paved the way to over 60 publications that I have authored or co-authored.

5. What work were you doing at CERA?

At CERA, I was a PhD research student with funding provided by the CBMI scholarship. My supervisors were Professors Jill E. Keeffe and Hugh R. Taylor. My work focused on trachoma. My thesis, which was submitted in 2005, was: “Primary health care approach to trachoma control in Aboriginal communities in Central Australia”. My thesis was also used as part of the suggestions for the National Indigenous Housing Guide.

6. Do you have any memorable anecdotes you might be happy to share?

Yes, during my first accompanied visit to the AP Lands in Central Australia I asked for directions on how to get to the Aboriginal communities I was supposed to visit. Well, I was told, if you reach the border of South Australia turn around, drive 1.5 km and take the dirt road on your left, keep on going several kilometres and once you reach the bonnet of an abandoned car make a left. If you missed it you probably took the wrong road, stay there and someone is bound to use the same road in the next 48 hours and they can guide you.

7. What advice would you give a young researcher starting at CERA?

Be patient, read a lot, make a lot of connections, enjoy your last chance of university and student life.

8. You have an hour to spend in a bookstore. What section do you make a beeline to?

Music and many of the classics, but cooking has become a favourite pastime, so anything that has spicy recipes.

9. How would your [parent; spouse; child] describe you in seven words or less?

Always on overdrive!