John H. Kempen, MD, MPH, PhD, MHS, will be honored with the 2020 Outstanding Humanitarian Service Award from the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) during the annual meeting in November. The award recognizes Dr. Kempen’s deep commitment to charitable work that aims to reduce blindness worldwide by improving access to patient care and establishing much-needed ophthalmology sub-specialty training programs in developing countries.
A Professor of Ophthalmology, Part-time at Harvard Medical School, Director of Epidemiology and Senior Scholar at Mass. Eye and Ear and the Schepens Eye Research Institute, Dr. Kempen is internationally renowned for his expertise in ocular inflammatory diseases and ophthalmic epidemiology.
Dr. Kempen is Founding President of Sight for Souls—a Christian nonprofit organization that aims to eradicate global blindness by developing sustainable eye care delivery eye systems, providing public health outreach, and creating ophthalmology training programs in areas of greatest need. In 2015, Dr. Kempen began a long-term commitment to lead the organization’s first project personally—the establishment of the MyungSung Christian Medical Center Eye Institute (MEI) in Ethiopia. Worldwide, Ethiopia has the second-highest burden of blindness among persons 50 years and older.
Improving Access to Care
For 10 months out of each year, Dr. Kempen provides vital eye care in Ethiopia, where he is the only known uveitis subspecialist between Cairo and Johannesburg. In partnership with local churches, ministries, and colleagues at the MEI, Dr. Kempen also develops and implements rural community outreach programs to screen patients for various eye conditions, including cataracts, trachoma, and refractive errors.
Developing Ophthalmology Training Programs
To increase access to high-quality specialty eye care in the long-term, Dr. Kempen and colleagues are spearheading the MEI’s development of internationally accredited ophthalmology residency and subspecialty training programs. He also organizes a biennial weeklong uveitis training course for ophthalmology trainees in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in partnership with the International Uveitis Study Group (IUSG). This course—taught by IUSG members—is a prototype for other subspecialty training courses in Africa.
Promoting Collaborative Eye Research
To advance patient care, the MEI facilitates collaborative eye research among its ophthalmologists and local and global partners. Notably, since 2013, Dr. Kempen has led a clinical trial and observational epidemiology program with colleagues to improve treatment for trachoma—the leading infectious cause of blindness worldwide. This program recently received a $4.3M National Eye Institute grant to fund a large-scale clinical trial. Dr. Kempen is a core member of the Vision Loss Expert Group of the Global Burden of Disease Study. He also continues to conduct collaborative ocular inflammatory disease research as PI of the Systemic Immunosuppressive Therapy for Eye Diseases Cohort Study and as protocol chair of the Multicenter Uveitis Steroid Treatment (MUST) Trial Follow-up Study and a study officer of successor study. His manuscripts typically are cited over 100 times per month.