News and notices. Comm Eye Health Vol. 13 No. 33 2000. March 01, 2000

Sir John Wilson

Sir John Wilson, who died at the age of 80 in November 1999, was a towering international figure in the blindness prevention movement for 50 years. His work had a profound impact on the lives of millions of people. One of his main concerns was to bring eye care within reach of poor communities.

Blinded himself at the age of 12 by an accident in a school chemistry laboratory, the young John Wilson fought back with courage and determination and went on to gain a double first at Oxford University.

In 1950 he founded Sight Savers International – formerly known as the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind. He led the organisation for more than 30 years, during which time one of his great strengths was his genius for innovation. He was involved in establishing some of the essential elements of today’s eye care services in developing countries. These included mobile outreach programmes and the training of ophthalmic paramedics. Sight Savers also funded early research into the little understood disease of onchocerciasis. Training schemes for blind people in rural areas proved that they could farm as successfully as their sighted neighbours.

Sir John was also instrumental in revealing the scale of world blindness – the first conservative estimate at over 15 million people – and he set about stimulating the global collaboration which was essential to tackle human suffering on such a scale. He played a key role in establishing the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) and was its first President.

Sir John retired from Sight Savers in 1983, but maintained close links with the organisation. The pace of his life did not slacken. He founded the IMPACT movement, a global initiative to prevent major causes of disability, and his international travel schedule continued up to the time of his death.

News and notices in Comm Eye Health Vol. 13 No. 33 2000 –