- In 2010 there were nearly 100 million people fewer people who were blind or having severe or moderate visual impairment than would have been expected.
- Prevalence of blindness and visual impairment over the past twenty years – both globally and in every region – is declining. This is the most powerful evidence that the fight to eliminate avoidable blindness and vision impairment is being won
- The underlying rates of blindness in the low income countries is considerably greater than in high income countries
- The number of blind people in the world – 32 million. Those with moderate and severe visual impairment – 191 million. Total: 223.4 million
The buzzing city of New Orleans was the backdrop for the American Academy of Ophthalmology annual meeting this year. In the true spirit of “The Big Easy”, New Orleans is a melting pot of cultures, people, nationalities and fabulous opportunities to meet up with old and new friends.
It was really great to meet with Alan Richards, an ophthalmologist from Shreveport, Louisiana, USA who has his heart set on helping and making a difference to improve the treatment and management of ROP in Eastern Europe and Russia. Since 2011 Alan Richards and his wife Rishea have been raising funds from their home town to bring hope to the thousands of premature babies who each year face the risk of childhood blindness. Alan has been working with IAPB and Clare Gilbert from the International Centre for Eye Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to develop a long term strategy to help address this problem and to provide funding for a number of initiatives and programmes in Russia. The programme funds national and regional ROP workshops to support neonatologists and paediatric ophthalmologists to work together to develop national guidelines and polices. It also supports training opportunities for key people to participate in fellowships and observerships plus support to senior ophthalmologists to attend and present papers at international congresses.
As part of this programme, Alan Richards had provided funding for Dr Ekaterina Denisova, a Moscow based ophthalmologist, to undertake an observership in the US at the Associated Retinal Consultants Institute in Michigan, USA. This is the largest retinal subspecialty practice in the USA. (Our thanks also to Graham Quinn for arranging this opportunity).
It was good to meet with Dr Denisova for a coffee and learn more about her amazing work in Russia. Dr Denisova will spend the next month in the US learning from leading experts and surgeons in VR surgery to not only improve her knowledge and skills in VR surgery and management but also to transfer this knowledge and skills to Russian ophthalmologists working with ROP at the Helmholtz Moscow Research Institute of Eye Diseases in Moscow.
A big thanks to Allan for his dedication and support for the programme in Russia. It was a great pleasure to say “увидеть вас в следующем году” (See you next year)!
Do visit our ROP pages for more information about the condition and access some useful resources.
In the picture: Dr Alan Richards, Shreveport sees Russia and Dr Ekaterina Denisova.
One sits back and wonders at the number of International Health Days in a year – a little too many perhaps? What happens - when like this year – the same date is shared by different health issues (World Sight Day and World Mental Health Day)? Are we on the verge of an international health day ‘fatigue’?
It is not uncommon to see such discussion on blog posts and twitter feeds online. And so, it’s also great to see the support World Sight Day enjoys and to get a glimpse of what it means to people around the world. For example, Stephen Thompson spoke to optometry graduates (and its his post that got me thinking about the other health days) from Universidade Lurio in Mozambique and discovered that participating in WSD celebrations, “…improves morale and gives a sense of belonging to a greater cause”.
This year’s World Sight Day celebrations and the social media ‘chatter’ have really generated a feeling of kinship and purpose. Hundreds of events – seminars, rallies, walks, screenings, free surgeries – were delivered on World Sight Day. The ‘Volunteers for World Sight Day’ from Trinidad and Tobago are a fantastic example of what can be done on WSD – from walks in WSD-branded tee-shirts and colour-coordinated balloons to meetings and endorsements from the country’s President, it looks like they have done it all! The Lotus School of Optometry in Mumbai, India chose to focus on special ‘groups’ of the population who would otherwise not get their eyes checked – like taxi drivers, domestic help and children from shelters. The Taiwanese Ophthalmological Society and its partners celebrated the idea of “embracing old age with bright eyes” (along with a host of other activities). The Norwegian Association of the Blind and Partially Sighted (NABP) and its patrons discussed diagnosis and prevention of eye diseases – and celebrated their interventions in the Asia and Africa. The Asia-Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology (APAO) organized its third Asia-Pacific Eye Care Week in conjunction with WSD13, focusing on ‘Dysthyroid Eye Diseases’ and ‘Corneal Diseases and Eye Banking’.
WSD this year also marked a new chapter of partnership, with the Standard Chartered Bank and the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee trust joining forces to fight avoidable blindness. TOMS’ #BeShady campaign was very popular, and it encouraged celebrities like Jamie Foxx to tweet about WSD, doubtless increasing awareness. Alcon shared ‘celebration kits’ with their partners to mark WSD 13. Key messages included a survey result from Light House International that 8 out of 10 people feared losing their vision, over other senses. Optometry Giving Sight’s World Sight Day Challenge, as always, saw great participation from the optical community (Both of them also supported the production and distribution of IAPB’s WSD13 Report and material).
It would seem 2013 was the year social media woke up in a big way to World Sight Day. Many partners – and IAPB itself – have notched huge support online, with twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn mentions like never before. We made loads of new friends this year on those pages, and we hope to keep them interested with more!
IAPB too launched the WSD 13 report on Universal Eye Health in Bhutan, Manila and Kigali to much fanfare. In Bhutan, the Crown Princess launched the report in the presence of the Prime Minister and Health Minister. The event marks Bhutan’s enhanced commitment to eye health for its people. In Manila, the report helped to cement commitment from the health officials and helped to build upon existing friendly relations. In Kigali, The launch event included a rally with people walking in twos and one person blindfolded. It raised a lot of curiosity!
Finally, celebrating World Sight Day fosters a sense of fellowship and togetherness. On one day every year, we take note of the many seemingly small steps we take to restore and protect vision, or to support those who are irreversibly impaired.
B V Tejah,
Communications Manager, IAPB
Like many of you, IAPB has been following the devastation wrecked by Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda (one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded) in the Philippines (and other countries of the Western Pacific) over last week.
“With a storm surge of a 5 meter wall of water, many parts of Leyte and Samar [in the Philippines] where the storm first landed were just flattened. Even sturdy looking buildings were not spared. An estimate of the dead now being circulated is around 10,000 nationally (putting all affected areas together). Other parts affected are provinces of Ilo-ilo, Aklan and northern parts of Palawan and Cebu. The full extent of the devastation is not yet fully known”, writes Stephen Alcantara, Coordinator, South East Asia & Islands Secretariat, IAPB Western Pacific region in a communication to the office.
What is needed there? “Just about everything - food, clean water, hygiene kits, blankets, shelter, medicines, wound care, burying the dead, help with finding missing persons, restoring power, restoring communications, restoring airports to facilitate arrival of relief, rescue and rehabilitation teams, etc.”, he says. Steve works from Manila, Philippines.
A number of organisations are appealing for support to help with their emergency response in the region: Two IAPB members, CBM Australia and International Rescue Committee, have set up an appeal page on their websites.
Some of the other organisations running an appeal for support are:
IAPB urges all NGOs offering help to coordinate efforts and plans. Steve Alcantara adds that they should work with the national government agencies - NDRRMC (National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council), the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Department of Health, and also the UN agencies coordinating work on the ground.
2013 is the year we adopted the WHO Global Action Plan (GAP) 2014-2019, and its only fitting that we renew IAPB Europe’s Business Plan now. The objectives and actions of the GAP were considered when writing our regional action plan for 2013-2017 as our main purpose in the near future is to help the implementation of the GAP at country levels all across Europe. We would also like to encourage the key opinion leaders of European countries to analyse the eye health situation in their country and create a national plan for the prevention of blindness. IAPB Europe is ready to help ophthalmologists advocate, and make plans to organize regional workshops on advocacy in the next few years.
- Better data – we need improved data in order to construct a valid argument to influence policy; the existing data should be collected and analyzed and RAAB studies should be encouraged where there is no data available.
- Effective, evidence-based advocacy – by developing and supporting evidence-based advocacy plans in target countries / by the adoption of eye health plans at national level across prioritised European countries with clear national targets based on new WHO Global Action Plan.
- Improved knowledge and skills – to increase knowledge, understanding and replication of effective practice in prevention of sight loss particularly in the areas of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) and diabetic retinopathy (DR) and also in vision rehabilitation.
- Increased resources available to IAPB Europe to develop and deliver the agreed strategy and Action Plan 2013-2017 – by developing a fundraising strategy; we will seek funding for the prioritised projects listed in the Action Plan.
I am delighted to take you through the key highlights of IAPB's 2013 Council of Members meetings, which took place from 14-17 September in Brighton, UK. With close to 150 delegates from 70 organisations worldwide attending, the event saw a significant increase in participation compared to previous Council meetings.
The meetings started with a very successful Diabetic Retinopathy Work Group session, attended by almost 50 delegates, including contributions from WHO, the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust and the International Diabetes Federation (access the DR meeting presentations here).
Following a Sunday full of IAPB Board Committee meetings, Monday saw themed Workshop sessions covering the new WHO Global Action Plan, World Sight Day, Human Resources, Global Burden of Disease data, Eye Health Systems and Rapid Assessment of Avoidable Blindness methodology. The sessions had been developed by members, for members and their introduction provided an effective platform for sharing and learning from each other. You can access all themed sessions' presentations here.
Finally, the Council of Members plenary session was held on the Tuesday, following the IAPB Board meeting. The Highlights:
- The CEO report; Peter Ackland summed up key achievements over the last year and oulined challenges in the future;
- The presentation of the new IAPB strategic plan 2013-2017; 'a strategy of and by members';
- The launch of a global legal pro bono service for IAPB members in partnership with Thomson Reuters Foundation (learn more); and,
- A well-received key note address by Prof. David Molyneux of the Centre for Neglected Tropical Diseases at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.
You can also view videos from the Council plenary here:
This year's Council of Members also featured celebration of 20 Eye Health Leaders - they had been nominated by member organisations as future leaders of the eye health sector. Seven were able to attend and all were recognised in a small ceremony by Lady Jean Wilson, co-founder of IAPB, and Ms. Marie Bonneaud of L'OCCITANE Foundation, sponsor of the initiative (photos from the ceremony)
The four-day event ended with a drinks reception; a final, informal opportunity for delegates to share impressions from the meetings and plans for the future.
You can access all these links, pictures and videos from the 'CoM 2013 - Brighton' page in the Council Members section of the website also.
IAPB thanks all the participants for making this an engaging and stimulating CoM meetings - proof, once again, of the passion and collaborative spirit of our sector.
Jennifer Gersbeck, CEO, Vision 2020 Australia, 'guest-blogs' for us this week! The organisation has just concluded TWO enoromously successful vision summits back-to-back. Each summit targeted the ruling party and the opposition party respectively on the eve of Australian federal elections. Needless to say, a must-read...
Australia is in the middle of a pre-election battle as the country prepares to go to the polls on 7 September.
As the two main parties publicly battle it out, Vision 2020 Australia and its members are busily working behind the scenes to ensure that eye health and vision care remains on the agenda of both sides of Australian politics. At this critical time it is more important than ever that the sector works together.
As CEO of Vision 2020 Australia it has been enormously satisfying to assist in bringing the sector together, outlining key eye health and vision care policy requirements and creating a forum for the sector and both sides of politics to talk about the important issues.
The key platform for facilitating this dialogue has been through organising two Vision Summit events. The first was held with the Opposition and the second was with the Government.
The staging of these events has been an enormous milestone for the sector in the lead up to the Federal Election and has allowed members to ask questions and scrutinise policy of federal parliamentarians across health and ageing, disability, Indigenous health and international development, particularly in Asia and the Pacific.
CEOs from leading eye health and vision care organisations across Australia attended each of the events. I am pleased to say that the discussions resulted in recognition on both sides of politics that more needs to be done to improve eye health across Australia’s population, Indigenous communities and people living in the Asia/Pacific region.
In addition to the Summits, Vision 2020 Australia worked with the sector to develop policy and funding proposals across Australian, Indigenous and global eye health.
These documents which flag the sector’s key funding asks have been distributed to every Australian Member of Parliament and I have been attending meetings with key parliamentarians to continue to communicate the asks of the sector.
With just four weeks to go until we learn the outcome of the election I am optimistic that the work which has been done over the past few months will ensure that whichever political party is elected, eye health and vision care is firmly on the agenda.
CEO, Vision 2020 Australia
In one of his blogs on the Global Action Plan, Peter Ackland urged the eye health sector to focus on "implementation, implementation and implementation". Intrigued, Sridevi Sunderarajan, Communications Officer at VISION 2020 India, interviewed Peter on the implications of the new Action Plan and the road ahead. The full interview can be accessed as part of VISION 2020 India's Quarterly Bulletin. An abridged version is available here:
Sridevi Sunderarajan: The global action plan 2014-2019 towards universal health is a big achievement for the eye care fraternity. What is its importance?
Peter Ackland: The new Global Action Plan (GAP) is now the most important strategic document that we have in the field of eye health at global level. It builds upon and replaces previous VISION 2020 and 2009 - 2013 Action Plans. It is important because it keeps eye health and the elimination of avoidable blindness and visual impairment on the radar of health policy makers. With so much current international interest in the Neglected Tropical Diseases and the four priority non-communicable diseases (cancer, respiratory diseases, heart diseases and diabetes) we have to fight for attention for our cause of better eye health.
SS: What are the unique features of this action plan?
PA: The GAP has an overall target – which is to reduce the prevalence of avoidable visual impairment by 25% by the year 2019 from the baseline of 2010. This is important as once achieved it will continue the downward trend we have seen in the age standardised prevalence rate of both blindness and moderate & severe visual impairment in the period 1990 to 2010.
The GAP is structured around three clear objectives:
- The first objective focuses upon generating evidence on the magnitude and causes of visual impairment and on the state of eye health services and using this evidence to advocate for greater political and financial commitment by national governments to eye health.
- Objective two encourages the development of policies, plans and programmes to enhance universal eye health. It refers to the need for integration of eye health into strengthened health systems.
- Objective three stress the need for multisectoral engagements and effective partnerships.
Overall the GAP summarises current thinking within IAPB and its’ Members as to how we are most likely to raise the profile of eye health, vision impairment and rehabilitation and establish the services required to bring eye health to the most marginalised and poorest groups in society.
SS: The preparation involved several stakeholders. Were there any challenges that you faced while the proposal was being drafted?
PA: The key challenge was to ensure that the process to develop and promote the new GAP was driven by Member States … Accordingly our advocacy strategy was to build relationships with Member States and encourage them to promote the GAP at the meetings. At this point I should pay tribute to the work of Lesley Podesta, the Chair of the IAPB work group, and Sanjeev Commar, a consultant engaged to help with the work in Geneva … VISION 2020 India arranged for us to meet senior Indian government officials and we were able to talk about the new GAP. Likewise we met the high level Chinese delegation that attended the 9GA. Getting the support of these countries and the leadership displayed by Australia, Mexico and Saudi Arabia in particular was the key to success.
SS: So what are the next steps? How will this plan be implemented universally?
PA: Important though the new GAP is it will only add value if it is now taken up seriously at country levels and national governments take responsibility for implementing the GAP in their country. Future IAPB advocacy work will now shift to country level – though we would hope all countries will take action the reality is that if we are to make impact on the global prevalence of blindness and visual impairment some big countries just have to succeed ... Part of IAPB’s future role will be to help establish strong local capacity to advocate for change.
We have been discussing with WHO how we can catalyse local interest in the new GAP. One thing we have thought of is to encourage the development of an approved WHO eye health service assessment tool which can be used in each country as a situational analysis of current provision and identify areas that need strengthening. Another proven approach has been to encourage localised prevalence surveys, such as RAABs. Global data or even national level data can easily seem distant to policy makers and politicians whilst a local survey that identifies the size and causes of blindness and visual impairment is harder to ignore and more likely to interest people to want to do something about the situation.
Ultimately it is local action that will win the day for us. These are exciting times and the new GAP provides us with the opportunity to make a lasting impact – I hope everyone reading this will feel they have something to offer to make this all happen – because you all do!