Brien Holden suddenly passed away on July 27 of a heart attack. He was 73. Professor Holden was a pioneer of treating global refractive error and an internationally renowned and awarded scientist. He was the chief executive of the famous Brien Holden Vision Institute and a professor at the School of Optometry and Vision Science at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia.
Holden was a humanitarian who believed in research as fundamental to the service to society. The Brien Holden Vision Institute is a research and social enterprise organization that employs more than 300 people globally and is active in scientific research, education, innovation, licensing and public-health blindness prevention. The institute's core business is creating new ways to improve vision for people affected by refractive errors.
Holden was awarded seven honorary doctorates from universities in Europe, the U.S. and Africa. Most recently, he got an honorary doctorate in humane letters from the University of Houston, in 2012. At this award he was described as “the most influential optometrist of our generation.” In 2014, he received the Charles F. Prentice Medal from the American Academy of Optometry, in recognition of his record of advancement of knowledge in vision science. Prior to that, in 2010 he received the Schwab Social Entrepreneur Award for Africa, at the regional World Economic Forum – jointly with Dr Kovin Naidoo of the African division of Brien Holden Vision, Public Health. The long list of awards he received throughout his career also includes, among others, the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for outstanding contributions to eye care research and education, in 1997; the Ruben Gold Medal from the International Society for Contact Lens Research for outstanding contributions to contact lens research, in 1986; and the British Contact Lens Association Medal, in 1997. From 2001 to 2007, he was the holder of the Scientia Professorship at UNSW.
In 1976, he established The Cornea and Contact Lens Research Unit (CCLRU). In 1985, Holden and colleagues established the Institute for Eye Research as a non-profit Approved Research Institute, now known as the Brien Holden Vision Institute. Holden was also the first director of the Cooperative Research Centre for Eye Research and Technology (CRCERT), established in 1991 after the launch by the Australian government of the Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) Program the same year. In 1998, he co-founded the International Centre for Eyecare Education (ICEE), now called “Brien Holden Vision Institute, Public Health.” It was renamed as such in 2012 to offer eyecare services in developing communities around the world.
Holden had been the chairman of the Refractive Error Working Group of the World Health Organization since 2001. In 2003, the World Council of Optometry, the Brien Holden Vision Institute Foundation and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness created Optometry Giving Sight, the only global fundraising initiative that specifically targets the prevention of blindness and impaired vision due to uncorrected refractive error.