Brien Holden Vision Institute sees new developments under Naidoo

It’s been almost two years since the passing of Professor Brien Holden, founder of the eponymous institute dedicated to eradicating preventable blindness.New CEO Professor Kovin Naidoo has spent that time continuing the work of one of Australia’s most celebrated humanitarians.Naidoo is filling big shoes; however the South African public-health advocate and ex-political prisoner has never shied away from a challenge. Indeed, his departure from South Africa within two hours of the confirmation of Holden’s passing indicates a succession plan was in place at the time and Naidoo was well aware of what awaited.Naidoo says his most pressing probls have been to support the staff during the inevitable transition period and steer the organisation in a logical and consistent direction with the assistance of the board of directors. To aid this, he has resigned as chair of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness Africa (IAPB).Some of the other challenges facing him include the expiration or pending expiration of royalties from the institute’s previous contact-lens IP and a delay before further royalties come on stream from more recent endeavours, such as the Extended Depth of Focus (EDOF) products.Moreover, other recent activities have required additional investment to bear fruit and some narrowing of core pursuits has been necessary.{{quote-A:R-W:450-I:2-Q: The advantage of income from royalties is that it is not project-specific so it can be used for new areas of translational research and projects, such as schools of optometry. -WHO:Professor Kovin Naidoo, CEO of the Brien Holden Vision Institute}}He says the institute’s managent plans to retain and maintain its original objectives of research and humanitarian aid, however, some other activities will be out-sourced as appropriate. For example, all graduate-student managent has been relocated to the School of Optometry and Vision Science (SOVS).Naidoo stresses that such decisions were not taken autonomously. The institute consulted extensively with staff via in-house workshops when selecting projects of focus then updated the strategic plan and organisation chart respectively.The aim has been to converge the ‘wish list’ with the realities of funding. Ultimately, public health activities have been refocused across the board to strengthen the institute’s phasis on the ophthalmic industry. Internal translational research initiatives have also been bolstered. The result has been a new strategic plan with an adjustment of resources and the hiring of specialist staff.The main concentration of current activities is on science and technology/translational research – myopia and myopia control (CLs, spectacles, relevant instrumentation), presbyopia, contact-lens comfort – such as novel agents – and dry eye pharmaceuticals.Other established focuses, including educational and public health, have also continued as detailed in the joint report on myopia conducted by the institute and the World Health Organisation that was presented to the 10th General Assbly of the IAPB in Durban, South Africa in October last year.Naidoo notes that the institute has not always been the one to benefit most from its activities but adds, “Fairness and relevance to strategic partners and the institute is now in its DNA.”Public health/myopia endeavours include: the goal of screening and ensuring that follow-up care is provided for 50 million children by 2020 through the Our Children’s Vision Campaign (working with 60 global partners); support for and development of new optometry schools to provide local eye care in underserved parts of the world, and; the creation of local, community-based franchises to assist young, local optometrists in establishing viable practices in neglected locales.This represents an extension of current ventures to establish local vision centres in collaboration with interested governments.The institute is also pursuing partnerships with industry, educational organisations, and civil societies – partnerships it believes can be enhanced. Already the institute and UNSW/SOVS are involved in the support of a school of optometry in Uganda as well as a myopia-managent training program. Some synergy has been found between the global ambitions of UNSW and the established worldwide reach of the institute.After suitable deliberations, the selection of appropriate strategies and the alignment of budgets with those goals, Naidoo believes the institute now has sufficient reserves to cover the next three years of projected activities, by which time new royalty streams will be flowing. Funding comes primarily from business development and includes royalty-producing co-development and licensing transactions, as well as donors such as USAid, AusAid, Optometry Giving Sight, Lions International, DFAT and certain major ophthalmic companies.According to Naidoo, the advantage of income from royalties is that it is not project-specific so it can be used for new areas of translational research and projects, such as schools of optometry that can be up to six years in the making.Such projects are intended to be sustainable and reduce the local dependence on outside help. Naidoo’s short-term approach has been to align strategies to goals and capacity, then carry these strategies through to completion. In the long term, his challenge is to make such strategies work.More recent activitiesFormer Prime Minister Tony Abbott oversaw changes to AusAid that moved the source of funding further from the recipients. Asked what effect these changes would have on the institute, Naidoo’s response was simple: “It will impact,” he said.Currently, the board of the Brien Holden Vision Institute has Professor Brian Layland as chairman and Anthony Chapman-Davies, Frank Back, Professor Nag Rao, Professor Charles McMonnies and Yvette Waddell as directors. Translational endeavours focus on all aspects of the myopia issue.The organisation has invested further in myopia-control contact lenses and spectacle lenses, increased its education of the public about myopia and its treatments, and expanded its reach into children’s eye-care services.Interestingly, Naidoo sees Australia as fertile ground for the institute to invest in innovation and entrepreneurship, driven by federal and state governments. Not only does the institute want to generate support for its translational research activities, but it also seeks to be a vehicle to support or partner with others in similar pursuits. In short, it wants researchers to “take it to the world”.{{image3-a:l-w:400}}Naidoo says he has felt well accepted since taking up his role as CEO and adds that people outside the organisation interested in partnerships or pathways to a wider market often contact him with their own ideas. He also finds the team already in place a “natural fit”, even though many outside the Sydney office weren’t familiar with him before his arrival.Given his history as a mover and shaker in anti-Apartheid politics and public health circles such as IAPB, WCO, WHO and others, Naidoo’s strong people skills were always going to be useful in Sydney.He did admit to some personal difficulties he’d felt since leaving his country and extended family behind, but says this feeling has mostly subsided thanks to the acceptance and support he has experienced since he arrived.When asked to describe his managent style, Naidoo says he is inclusive and likes to get people involved. He avoids micromanagent, seeks to power staff and isn’t afraid to make tough decisions. He also believes it’s important to acknowledge both success and failures, and to express a philosophy of openness and transparency.Naidoo’s interests lay in medicine and public health from an early age. After completing his schooling, he chose to study optometry locally and went on to complete an optometry degree at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry, a Masters in Public Health at Tple University, Philadelphia, and a PhD at UNSW.He has served as Head of Optometry at the University of KwaZulu- Natal and is co-founder and CEO of the African Vision Research Institute and co-founder of the Clear Vision Optical franchise. He has served on many boards throughout his career including the Vision Impact Institute.Naidoo has also held many elected and voluntary positions, including Africa chair of the IAPB, trustee of VISION 2020: The Right to Sight, mber of the WCO Governing Board and mber of the WHO Refractive Error Working Group. As a founder and chair of African Vision, Naidoo helped establish cataract surgical services in the public sector.He has also previously chaired the SA Red Cross Air Mercy Services Board of Trustees. His other accomplishments include; his election as an Ashoka Fellow in 2006 for his social entrepreneurial efforts in addressing the needs of those less privileged, recognition as a Fulbright scholar, African Optometrist of the Year in 2002 and International Optometrist in 2007. Additionally, along with Professor Holden, Naidoo was jointly awarded the Schwab Social Entrepreneur Award for Africa 2010 for his ability to merge his business acumen with social causes.Most recently, Naidoo was awarded the Henry B (Hank) Peters Morial Award by the American Optometric Foundation at the American Acady of Optometry’s annual conference for explary contributions to public health.The Brien Holden Vision Institute aims to expand its relationship with UNSW and UNSW SOVS this year. Naidoo believes the Rupert Myer Building on UNSW’s main campus is still the most appropriate location for the organisation, citing the intellectual stimulation, formal affiliation agreent with UNSW, joint Institute/UNSW staff appointments and post-graduate study supervision as key reasons to stay.He also says there is a solid agreent to spend many more years on campus. Naidoo is focused upon ensuring the institute’s profile and level of activity increases significantly over the next five to 10 years.

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