Headshot of School of Optometry Professor Thomas Freddo, OD, PhD  next to MCPHS seal

MCPHS Faculty Appointed by the World Health Organization (WHO) to Help Develop Sustainable Eye Care Solutions for Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Headshot of School of Optometry Professor Thomas Freddo, OD, PhD  next to MCPHS seal

Professor Thomas Freddo has traveled the world training eye care professionals in the clinic and classroom. Now, he serves on a committee for the WHO to help develop sustainable healthcare development goals around the world.

In late November 2020, School of Optometry Professor Thomas Freddo, OD, PhD, was selected by the World Health Organization (WHO) to be a member of the Development Group for the anterior segment and adnexa group of eye care specialists. The purpose of this international committee is to create sustainable healthcare development goals for low-to-middle income countries in the United Nations (UN). Dr. Freddo’s role entails supporting the WHO with technical input and assisting with the Package of Eye Care Interventions (PECI), with a focus on the anterior segment subgroup. As a member of the Development Group, Dr. Freddo takes part in different stages of the PECI process and discussion.

The PECI is an initiative of the WHO to provide informational resources to countries for their planning, prioritizing, and budgeting of eye care services, and to more effectively integrate those services into their national healthcare plans. The development of the PECI is outlined as being achieved in five steps: selection of eye conditions; identification of evidence-based eye care interventions; agreement on interventions and service delivery platforms, and creation of descriptions for resource requirements; peer review; and production of the Alpha version of the PECI. Dr. Freddo says the first steps were very straightforward, because all committee members were quickly in agreement about which inexpensive eye drops, oral medications, and other treatments were not previously on the PECI list but should be. The eye drops, oral medications, and other measures that they selectively included in the package of eye care interventions were those that were most cost-effective.

Each WHO Development Group has about a dozen members from all over the world, including countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Ghana, and Singapore. Since Dr. Freddo’s appointment, his group has had two virtual team meetings, and two large virtual conferences with the facilitators. The facilitators are responsible for sending questionnaires to the Development Group asking about the list of minimum essential medications and treatments (surgical or other) that should be prioritized in national health schemes of poor-to-middle income countries. Once the Development Group makes their recommendations, the facilitators put their notes into a report, which is then voted on by countries in the UN. The first questionnaire that Dr. Freddo received was in regard to treatment regimens for diseases in the front half of the eye and adnexa (adnexa are accessory visual structures, such as eyelids, eyebrows, eyelashes, etc.) and the next questionnaire will aim to distinguish optimal delivery platforms.

The WHO designated each Development Group to a different part of the eye and eye care. Where Dr. Freddo’s group focuses on the anterior and adnexa, other groups focus on the retina (the back half of the eye), refraction problems, pediatric eye care, and glaucoma. Dr. Freddo was nominated for this position by the World Council of Optometry, having served on their education committee for a six-year period. He believes that he was chosen for the anterior segment group by WHO because his research has always involved the front of the eye. For nearly 25 years (1983-2006), the US National Eye Institute funded Dr. Freddo’s research on anterior uveitis, glaucoma and cornea, all of which he performed at Boston Medical Center as Professor of Ophthalmology, Pathology and Anatomy. During this time, Dr. Freddo also practiced on the staff of Boston Medical Center’s hospitals and directed the surgical eye pathology service. His international interest grew while serving on the Executive Council and ultimately as President of the International Society for Eye Research. In 2006, Dr. Freddo was appointed Professor and Director of the School of Optometry and Vision Science at Canada's only anglophone School of Optometry at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. He retired in 2016 and following retirement, agreed to join the faculty of MCPHS’s School of Optometry on a part-time basis. During his first year at MCPHS, he completed his now widely used clinical textbook, Anatomy of the Eye and Orbit, published by Wolters-Kluwer.

Aside from his research, Dr. Freddo has had a lifetime of experience contributing to the improvement of the training and education of eye care professionals around the world. During his career, he has won a dozen teaching awards from three institutions, and two honorary doctorates, one from the State University of New York and one from the University of Montreal. In 2017, he was selected to join the Fulbright Senior Specialist Program. In this volunteer position, he traveled to advise on the curriculum, faculty development, and planning for optometric institutions abroad. For his first Fulbright trip, Dr. Freddo served at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa; another posting is scheduled for Hong Kong in 2022. But he has also traveled for the purpose of contributing to optometry education in New Zealand, Spain, Germany, Croatia, Sweden, Israel and Australia.

Dr. Freddo received his Doctor of Optometry degree at the New England College of Optometry. He subsequently completed a PhD in Anatomy/Pathology and a year of Fellowship training in Surgical Ophthalmic Pathology, both at Boston University School of Medicine. But before his prestigious optometry career, Dr. Freddo earned his bachelor’s degree in zoology at the University of Connecticut in 1971. For students who are similarly interested in a more general bachelor’s degree before pursuing an optometry doctorate, check out the Bachelor of Science in Premedical & Health Studies - Optometry Pathway.