Chris Girkin, M.D., MSPH, FACSChris Girkin, M.D., MSPH, FACSOn August 31, 2022, Chris Girkin, MD, MSPH, FACS, served on a panel hosted by Advancing Sight Network to close out National Minority Donor Awareness Month. The goal of this annual observance is to increase organ donor registrations among communities of color, which make up nearly 60 percent of the more than 100,000 people on the national waitlist for life-saving organ transplants and to honor those who have been organ and tissue donors. Advancing Sight Network, a nonprofit headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, hopes to restore eyesight while addressing inequality in healthcare. 

The panel was sponsored by The Caring Foundation of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama. Dr. Girkin, renowned glaucoma physician and Eyesight Foundation of Alabama Endowed Chair at UAB Callahan Eye, was joined by Dr. Raegan Durant, Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at UAB’s Heersink School of Medicine as well as Dr. Alecia K. Gross, associate professor of Neurobiology at UAB. The discussion was moderated by Dr. Greg Grossman, Chief Scientific Officer at Advancing Sight Network. “Increasing diversity in eye donation leads to greater equity in drug development and better treatment options for individuals of every background,” Grossman noted.

Discussion centered on the need to develop sustainable programs in Alabama to increase minority and under-served community representation in donation. In Alabama, the rate of eye tissue donation from minority groups is about half that of Caucasians, despite the fact many blinding eye diseases impact minority communities at a higher rate than in Caucasians. The panelists addressed challenges and opportunities surrounding diversity in eye donation, ultimately aiming to improve awareness and donation rates. Increased availability of diverse donations will aid in the work to develop new therapies that impact those same communities.