ARVO Announces Winners of 2022 Advocacy Awards  
Awardees advance eye and vision research through advocacy


Rockville, Md. - The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) announced today the 2022 recipients of its annual Advocacy Awards:

  • Achievements in Eye and Vision Advocacy Award ― Sundaram Natarajan, MD, DSc, FRCS (Aditya Jyot Eye Hospital, Mumbai, India)
  • Emerging Advocate Award ― Shervonne Poleon, PhD (University of Alabama at Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.) 

The Achievements in Eye and Vision Advocacy Award recognizes ARVO members who have dedicated the core of their impressive careers to advancing the eye and vision research field through advocacy at every level.

Currently Chief of Clinical Services at the Aditya Jyot Eye Hospital, Natarajan has dedicated his life to fighting vision loss. His end goal is to ensure all of India is sighted. Over the last 36 years, he has performed over 60,000 vitreous and retinal surgeries, plus assisted in the development of medicines for many ophthalmic disorders. He has also trained over 68 vitreoretinal surgeons from around the world and continuously promotes improved quality of life for early-career ophthalmologists.

Natarajan has made great contributions to the eye and vision field through his passion for research and transforming lives. Under his leadership, the Aditya Jyot Foundation for Twinkling Little Eyes (AJFTLE), now known as the Kamala Sundaram Foundation, has provided affordable eye care to more than one million people. His accolades include award of the Padma Shri ― India's fourth-highest civilian award ― by the president of India (2013); the State Award for Meritorious Public Service by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir, and he was a charter inductee of the Retina Hall of Fame (2017).

Natarajan says he is grateful for the opportunity to receive the ARVO award. “Every patient deserves care and someone to advocate for them." He says his aim is to implement eye care in “every village in India to eliminate preventable blindness. It is my dream to eliminate diabetes-related blindness from India by 2025 and eventually the world. My accomplishments [should] serve as a reminder that we all need to be [contributors], role models, and advocates in the profession and inspirations for others.”

The Emerging Advocate Award recognizes ARVO members who have made efforts to incorporate advocacy as part of their professional efforts early in their careers.

Poleon is a scientific researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). She currently focuses on socio-behavioral factors, such as anxiety and depression. Along with personal circumstances, these factors greatly impact every aspect of one’s life, especially health, but are hardly addressed in clinical settings. An example of this is the scarcity of emotional and social support for eye conditions.

A native of St. Lucia, Poleon has had experience with this due to the country's high prevalence of vision-threatening diseases like glaucoma. This disease became personal when her father was diagnosed when she was young, and she had to witness him eventually becoming blind. During that time, Poleon also saw her father struggle with depression from losing his vision. Profoundly impacted by the experience, she left St. Lucia to pursue doctoral training at UAB. She has dedicated her research and advocacy work to reducing socio-behavioral barriers to eye health and care, and is working on incorporating psychological wellness into eye care delivery.

In 2021, Poleon won the Prevent Blindness Rising Visionary Award for her essay outlining her personal experience with blindness, in which she advocated “for increased resources for addressing” socio-behavioral barriers in eye care. She was able to magnify this appeal when invited to share the ideas presented in her essay at the 10th annual Prevent Blindness Focus on Eye Health Summit. In addition, she participated in Prevent Blindness' ASPECT (Advocacy, Support, Perspective, Empowerment, Communication, and Training) Patient Empowerment Program ― a multidisciplinary program that provides participants with the necessary knowledge and tools to become vision and eye health advocates at all levels. Since completion, she has helped the program by recruiting participants and serving as a presenter.

Poleon has also petitioned Congress to support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Vision Health Initiative Glaucoma Detection Program for Fiscal Year 2023, as well as raised awareness on Capitol Hill on the issues faced by people with low and impaired vision.  

“This award means so much to me,” says Poleon, “I have a very personal experience with vision loss and how loneliness and social isolation compound it, and my research and work in advocacy are firmly grounded in this experience. The timing of this award could not be better as I am currently experiencing a period of change, personal growth and internal reflection. This acknowledgement is a very material reminder of the importance of this work and an inspiration to persevere. Thank you all for considering me worthy of this prestigious award.”

For more information about the Achievements in Eye and Vision Advocacy Award and the Emerging Advocate Award, visit ARVO’s website.



The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) is the largest eye and vision research organization in the world. Members include approximately 10,000 eye and vision researchers from over 75 countries. ARVO advances research worldwide into understanding the visual system and preventing, treating and curing its disorders. Learn more at

Media contact:
Jenniffer Scherhaufer