Dr. David Heiden: 2018 Humanitarian Service Award
Dr. David Heiden received the 2018 Outstanding Humanitarian Service Award from the American Academy of Ophthalmology. He was nominated by Pacific Vision Foundation and Seva Foundation. Out of 32,000 members, only two physicians were selected for this honor. Dr. Heiden received the award in recognition of his work to bring state-of-the-art blindness prevention techniques to HIV/AIDS patients in politically unstable and poverty-stricken environments across the globe. He pioneered the practice of training primary care AIDS doctors how to use eye exams to diagnose and treat Cytomegalovirus (CMV) retinitis, a disease that can increase AIDS-related mortality and lead to sudden, irreversible blindness. He also trained AIDS doctors how to perform intraocular injection of medication to treat CMV retinitis, something that had never been considered before.
CMV retinitis is a complication of AIDS and now almost forgotten in the United States. But before 1995 and the availability of potent drug cocktails to treat AIDS, CMV retinitis affected up to one-third of AIDS patients in the U.S.. Now, in high-income countries, CMV retinitis has virtually disappeared. Unfortunately, this is not the situation for most of the 36 million people currently living with HIV/AIDS in other countries. These patients still risk going blind from CMV retinitis because of stigma around drug use, same-sex partnerships, and HIV/AIDS itself, combined with frequent lack of access to any healthcare, particularly doctors with appropriate eye care skills.
Dr. Heiden’s interest in solving this problem led him to reach out to Seva Foundation, where he leads the AIDS Eye Initiative, and to partner with other organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, and the Wm J. Clinton Foundation. He has treated patients, trained doctors, or set up programs in Cambodia, India, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, China, Uganda and the Russian Federation. The work has taken him from places such as the Bang Kwang Maximum Security Prison in Bangkok, to Mother Theresa’s AIDS Hospice in the town of Khayelytsha, outside of Cape Town, South Africa. His most recent project was in Mozambique this past February, and in August he’ll travel to Odessa, Ukraine, site of one of the worst AIDS problems in Eastern Europe.