February 22, 2023
[Click here to listen to this interview.]
The new chair of the 2023 board of directors of GMAC (the Global Myopia Awareness Coalition) is Lisa McAlister, Global Myopia Lead of Johnson & Johnson Vision. Following the announcement of her appointment, Review of Myopia Management Editor-in-Chief John Sailer interviewed her to find out her plans for how the organization will continue working toward its mission of raising awareness and promoting a greater understanding of childhood myopia as a treatable disease. Read the interview below or listen here to find out what Lisa McAlister has in store for GMAC in 2023.
John Sailer: Hello, and welcome to Review of Myopia Management’s interview series. Today we are here with Lisa McAlister, Global Myopia Lead of Johnson & Johnson Vision, and the new chair of GMAC, the Global Myopia Awareness Coalition. By now most of our readers are familiar with GMAC, but for those who still aren’t, can you give us a quick description?
Lisa McAlister: We’re really excited to continue to raise awareness of GMAC and the awareness efforts that we’re doing around myopia as an industry coalition. GMAC was founded with a mission to promote public awareness of childhood myopia both as a treatable disease and as something that management has changed on over the years. The way we’ve planned to do that is through direct-to-consumer channels, and then also awareness with governments, NGOs, and other health care associations.
It’s important to note GMAC does not advocate for specific clinical approaches or treatments. We talk about the availability of new treatment options, and that’s up to the eye care practitioner to choose what’s best for the patient. We’re focused on stimulating public interest and prompting conversations between the parent and the eye care practitioner.
GMAC is comprised of an amazing amount of incredible companies, NGOs, doctor associations, and media companies across the eye health industry. If you’re interested in who’s a member, we have a full list of members available at our new web site, which is MyopiaAwareness.org. In addition to our members, we also have an esteemed advisory board, including representation from optometry, ophthalmology, pediatrics, school nurses, and academia. We’re looking at the continuum of myopia and all the different care providers that will come into contact with parents and their kids.
Sailer: What goals do you have planned and how does that fit in with the overall GMAC mission?
McAlister: I’ve had the privilege of serving on the board over the past several years. So, I got to watch my other board member colleagues, like Dr. Millicent Knight from Essilor, who was our previous board chair, how she brought us through change year over year, and I want to continue to do that good work with the rest of the board. Our main focus is raising awareness of myopia, its long-term impacts, and the new treatment options available to parents. Each year we aim to have a bigger impact than the year prior. We’re still a fairly new organization, so we are in a big learning curve on the impact we can make. We’re proud to say we’ve increased awareness more year over year.
Something else new we want to do this year, though, is make sure that eye care practitioners have visibility to the efforts we’re making. So, we will increase efforts to communicate directly to ECPs this year because we want to make sure to help drive that parent and ECP conversation. We want ECPs to be available or aware of what GMAC is doing this year.
Sailer: You’ve had a number of successful campaigns already — a lot through social media. You had a holiday Screen Staycation campaign last year and also reached out into the U.K. Can you tell us a little bit about those and also any specific campaigns that you have planned going forward?
McAlister: In 2022, we worked on this idea of a Screen Staycation. We talked about how it’s important to take a break from any screen, but more importantly, it was about getting outside and being in nature. We know that being outside can help delay the onset of myopia progression, and there’s some data out there that would say it could help slow myopia progression potentially once you’ve started. So, we really wanted to raise awareness of the fact that lifestyle changes can make an impact in a child’s myopia journey, so we partnered with some key influencers both in the U.S and the U.K. — anyone from parents to school teachers to pediatricians, and of course, eye care practitioners — to get the word out about taking a break and getting outside. We had a successful summer campaign, and we then brought that through to the holidays as well. We were aiming to hit those times when kids are out of school and most likely to go to their eye care practitioner for an eye exam.
We’re happy with the results from the 2022 campaigns, and we will have two campaigns again this year — one during the summer and one near the end of the year. We’re still working on the exact campaign details, but we will still plan to meet parents where they are. We’ll use social media influencers, media outlets, etc.
One of the things we did last year was build a downloadable resource for parents to use with their ECP – like a doctor discussion guide to help them discover what to say in their next conversation with their eye care provider. We plan to create more resources like that, and we want to make sure that while we’re raising awareness of myopia, we’re actually driving parents to our website where they can learn more and download relevant materials to take with them to the eye care practitioner.
Sailer: Beyond the campaigns, what plans do you have for growing the organization going forward?
McAlister: That’s a great question. One of the things we discuss in great detail both with our board and all of our member companies is putting the “G” or Global in GMAC. There was a specific choice that was made when GMAC started to raise awareness efforts in the west compared to Asia. The populations of many western countries are less aware of myopia, its progressive nature, and the ability to work with an eye care practitioner to slow down its progression. So, for the last several years, we were therefore focused on raising awareness in the U.S.
Last year, as you mentioned, we expanded our campaigns outside of the U.S. for the first time, and we did have a successful campaign in the U.K. during the summer holidays that followed the same idea of a tech timeout to again really get outdoors and take advantage of those lifestyle changes. This year, we’ll continue our efforts both in the U.S. and the U.K., and we’ll also expand to Canada.
We are also working on a five-year strategic plan that will help us figure out how to expand to many other countries. We know the opportunity is huge around the world to continue to raise awareness – even in countries in Asia where awareness is high. There’s not necessarily the awareness that treatment options are available and that you can do something about it, so we want to work very hard to expand the impact that we can make as GMAC.
Sailer: Then growing from within as far as membership, are you actually looking for more companies and/or possibly more eye care professionals to participate, and if so, how can they go about doing that?
McAlister: I’m so glad you asked that. We are always looking for new member companies, associations, etc. to join. You don’t have to be a company. You can be part of a group or however you’d like to join. We’d love to have you. You’re welcome to reach out to me or any of the board members if you’d like to get involved separately. We know there’s an opportunity to also pull through the efforts we’re making in an ECP’s office. And specifically, a parent is going to choose the office they want to go to, but if they’re coming in with a resource from GMAC, we’d love to have those ECPs be able to talk about it.
What GMAC is doing to close the loop on the conversation with parents is working on resources for eye care practitioners to talk about the benefit of GMAC to their patients, to tie that conversation together, and then provide excellent care for parents and their children. Those will be available later this year, so stay tuned.
We have lots of different areas you can get involved. As you heard me say before, we also have an advisory board. So, if you know anyone who’s looking to get involved with that, we’d love to have a conversation there too. It’s easiest to reach out to myself or another board member, which you can find on our website MyopiaAwareness.org, and we’d be happy to have a chat.
Sailer: Hopefully this encourages some additional people to get involved, and it’s a great cause. My last question is: Overall, long term, what do you see as the goals of GMAC and your overall involvement with them as the new chair?
McAlister: Myopia is the biggest eye care threat of the twenty-first century, but so many people still think it’s “just nearsightedness.” We have an opportunity to truly change the trajectory of eye health for the hundreds of millions of children who have myopia today and the millions who are becoming myopic every year.
Our goal is simple. We want to ensure parents know about myopia, its risks, and most importantly, that there’s something that you can do about it for your kids. We want to help guide them toward talking to an eye care practitioner and asking about what can be done to slow down the progression of myopia.
This really is a noble cause. Each of us, members of GMAC, and with our respective companies, associations, etc., work tirelessly each day to impact children’s lives. GMAC gives us an opportunity to come together and say myopia is a disease, but it can be managed, and there is something we can do about it. So, our goal is to get that out to as many people as possible.
I’m proud to serve with the members of GMAC every day, and I look forward to the impact we will continue to make. We’re getting better every year at figuring out how to raise awareness and meet parents where they are, expanding to other markets as opportunity allows, and to have more people join our cause.
It’s truly unique that so many different members of the same industry have come together to rally around one topic, and it’s really incredible to be involved with that. The more people who want to join the better. We’re very grateful for the opportunity to raise the word, and thank you to Review of Myopia Management for allowing us to do that.
Sailer: And thank you, Lisa McAlister, the new chair of GMAC, the Global Myopia Awareness Coalition, and the Global Myopia Lead of Johnson & Johnson Vision.