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Updated by R. Mély from an original publication by H.J. Kersley †
The European Contact Lens Society of Ophthalmologists (ECLSO) has become a major unifying force in medical contact lens practice both scientifically and on a personal basis and it is worth documenting something of its origins, growth and associations, together with some of the key personalities involved.
Although its aims are simply stated in the statutes of the society our purposes are to improve relationships between individuals and nations. This is achieved by the development of scientific programmes, through personal contact and all other means available to us.
When did the ECLSO start? This is not entirely clear, but it is certain that discussions were held in 1968 between Montague Ruben (UK) and Hanfried Laue (Germany) concerning the creation of a medical contact lens "club".
The International Contact Lens Council of Ophthalmology (ICLCO) already existed but was U.S. orientated and had no formal constitution.
Montague Ruben preferred a more formal approach so together with Hanfried Laue (Germany), Paul Cochet (France) & Hermann Kemmetmüller (Austria) a constitution was drawn up and the ECLSO was registered in Munich.
After a few small meetings in Wiesbaden (with the Rhineland Ophthalmological Society) the concept of national membership emerged and National Representatives to council (the Praesidium) were invited.
The first ECLSO Congress was held in London in 1971 at the Royal College of surgeons, presided over by Ruben and organised by Alan Higgitt, Michael O'Riordan & Michael Wilson. Prof. Jules François was Hon. President and was present in that capacity at this first Congress.
Jules François, Paul Cochet, Jan Kiewiet de Jonge (Holland) and Mats Rydberg (Sweden) did much in the early days to establish Contact Lens Practice as a sub-speciality of ophthalmology.
It was soon apparent that the Society had to be more important than any of its officers and so, by limiting the terms of office of the members of the Praesidium, a steady change was achieved. It was noted by Ruben at the time that a strong institution will be run by competent officers whereas a weak one will require strong, dictatorial personalities - remarkable insight for someone as powerful as he was, or perhaps his words were directed at someone else.
An advisory panel was founded in 1983 so that, in difficult times, wise counsel could be sought, but the cost and logistics of assembling this group and the difficulties of keeping everyone informed of progress (with language difficulties, the absence of fax machines and email etc.) meant that it was seldom used.
After Lyon the ECLSO settled into its now well known pattern of Congresses (see list of the past ECLSO congresses table 1) and with a few exception these have been well run and well attended. Great credit must be given to the hosts of these congresses as it was (and is) usually the enthusiasm and hard work of one or two individuals that made each one a success. As the ECLSO has no homebase, the Congress is in effect reborn each year in different guise in a different country.
The administratively has frequently been reshuffled and in 1981 the National Representatives required the Praesidium to be more formal in recording their activities. Proper minutes were kept from then on and a true record began to develop.
While in office Jan Kiewiet de Jonge died suddenly in 1981. As Secretary General he had held the Society together for seven years, without maintaining records. So we had to pause and rethink.
Jonathan Kersley (UK) took on the mantle of Secretary General at the Congress in Stresa and the then President Werner Claas together with Wulf Ehrich revised the constitution of the ECLSO. There are two documents that control the Society, the Statutes which lay down the legal form and function of the Society and the Rules that are more flexible and govern the day to day running of the Society.
Under the new Statutes the structure of the Praesidium remained unchanged but a new post of Vorstand was recognised. The Vorstand has to guarantee the proper running of the ECLSO and is the legal representative of the Society in the German Courts (the Society being registered in Munich). The list of the ECLSO officers is summarised on table 2.
In 1982/3 two awards were introduced.
The first was the Fick/Kalt/Müller Medal to celebrate the centenary of the invention of the contact lens by the three Doctors (1886/7). Werner Claas had the medal designed and it was first presented in 1983. It is the Society's highest award and represents appreciation for outstanding work in the furtherance of Contactology and/or the ECLSO. The recipient is chosen (each two years, see list of recipients on table 3) by the President alone, although his choice may be vetoed by the Praesidium, in which case the award is not made.
The Kiewiet de Jonge Lectureship, the second award, was introduced to commemorate his work for the Society. Also given every second year (see list of recipients on table 4), it provides expenses for travel to, and accommodation and registration at, the Congress for which it is presented. It is offered to a younger member of the ECLSO who has spoken at a previous meeting and in the view of the Praesidium is to be encouraged. The first time this award was given was at the time of the Estoril Congress and the presentation was made by Kiewiet de Jonge's widow.
In 2001 it was decided to replace the Kiewiet de Jonge Lectureship by the Kersley Lectureship. Once every two years, alternating with the Fick-Kalt-Müller Medal, a member of the Society will be invited to present a paper at the Annual Scientific Congress. The member should have already presented a paper to the Society which was of good scientific content and which would merit a further presentation. The Secretary General will invite suggestions from the National Representatives 18 months before the date of presentation. The Præsidium will select the speaker (see list of Kersley Lecturers on table 5) from these suggestions. The ECLSO Kersley Lecturer speaker gives a 20 min. Presentation. The ECLSO provides a travel and accommodation grant of 1000 € and the speaker pays no registration fee to attend the meeting.
The Præsidium can confer the title of Honorary Membership on the proposal of a member of the Præsidium. The proposal is submitted in writing to the Secretary General, who includes it on the agenda for the next meeting of the Præsidium. A commendation of the colleague concerned is to be attached. If the Præsidium votes in favour of an honorary membership, the final decision will be taken by the next General Assembly. The list of the ECLSO Honorary Members is summarized on table 6.
In the early 1980's Kersley had the idea of creating a scientific presence of the ECLSO at the Annual Congress of the Contact Lens Association of Ophthalmologists of America (CLAO) and in 1987 he started reciprocal arrangements so that CLAO members would also be represented at the ECLSO congress.
The ECLSO/CLAO Symposia on both continents have become important features of the Congresses and have always been supported by grants from the contact lens industry.
Apart from scientific exchange, the symposia have increased transatlantic awareness of each others' activities, improved social contact and provided a better understanding of both the workings and problems experienced by the two groups.
Contactologia has had a strange relationship with the ECLSO. Started in 1979 as an international medical contact lens journal under an agreement drawn up by Wulf Ehrich (Germany), Robert Heitz (France) and a publishing house in Germany (Enke Verlag, Stuttgart) it was first published in French and German only, mostly using material from ECLSO congresses.
By 1988 the ECLSO was interested in a closer relationship with Contactologia but apart from the fact that it was not sensible to consider an International Journal without the English language as well, it was necessary for publication to be in the three official languages.
After much discussion the English edition appeared in March 1989 but through lack of marketing and advertising revenue it ceased to exist in December 1999.
The first attempt at making the European meeting more international, in Lyon, was not a success, probably there were too many chiefs and not enough Indians. This was a missed opportunity as it was the first time the ICLCO had tried to bring everyone together in Europe. Apart from the ECLSO, CLAO (President Herschell Boyd) and the JCLS (President Saburo Hayano) were involved, with Georges Bonamour (France) as Congress President, Oliver Dabezies (USA) as Co-president and G.Peter Halberg (USA) as Secretary General. Abraham Schlossman (USA), then President of the ICLCO, was one of the distinguished guests and was made an Honorary Life member of the ECLSO.
There has always been an informal communication between individuals from the ECLSO and the ICLSO and through an important but undefined link with the International Council of Ophthalmology (ICO), but never proper representation. This also applied to medical contact lens groups in other parts of the world.
It was decided in 1994 to form a new Society with a real constitution which would effect this representation in a proper democratic fashion and would continue to provide the kind of support that each four-yearly International Contact Lens Symposium requires.
In 2004 the ICLSO and the ICLCO decided to join and to establish a new international society called International Medical Contact Lens Council (IMCLC) representing the four major medical contact lens societies (ECLSO, CLAO, SOBLEC and JCLS ) of the world. The IMCLC organises biannual symposia as part of the World Congresses of Ophthalmology.
History has shown that contact lens management is not just a matter of putting and object on an eye but a whole subject involving Ophthalmology at every level.
As a result the future of Medical Contactology has been clearly established.