Alfred Sommer, MD

  • Presented: 
    2011
  • Recognition: 
    ASCRS Ophthalmology Hall of Fame

Alfred Sommer, MD, is recognized for his pioneering work in vitamin A deficiency and pediatric mortality. His research interests include outcomes assessment, child survival, epidemiology of visual disorders, glaucoma, vitamin A deficiency, blindness prevention strategies, cost-benefit analysis, the growing interface between medicine and public health, and clinical guidelines.

Sommer's long-term, continuing research has involved the cause, magnitude, consequences, and control of vitamin A deficiency and, most recently, those of related micronutrients. In a series of complex intervention trials conducted in Indonesia from 1976 to 1980, Sommer and his research team discovered that vitamin A deficiency was far more common than previously recognized and that even mild vitamin A deficiency dramatically increases childhood mortality rates, primarily because this deficiency reduces resistance to infectious diseases such as measles and diarrhea. Parallel studies organized by Sommer and colleagues in Africa demonstrated that most cases of measles-associated pediatric blindness were also related to low vitamin A levels.

To prove these observations definitively, Sommer and his colleagues ran a number of large-scale, community-based, randomized trials from 1983 through 1992 and demonstrated the link between even mild vitamin A deficiency and pediatric mortality.

Moving from science to practice, Sommer next showed that the debilitating consequences of vitamin A deficiency could be effectively, quickly, and cheaply treated with oral high-dose vitamin A supplementation, and treatment did not require a sterile injectable preparation. As a result, the World Development Report (World Bank) declared vitamin A supplementation one of the most cost-effective of all health interventions.

Currently, Sommer is professor of ophthalmology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and dean emeritus and professor of Epidemiology and International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Hygiene.

Sommer received his medical training at Harvard Medical School and a master of health science in epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Hygiene. He was the founding director of the Dana Center for Preventive Ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins, which focuses on clinical epidemiology and public health aspects of blindness prevention and child survival. Subsequently, Sommer served as dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.