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IAPB's Blog

New UK Govt report focuses attention on disability

The UK House of Commons’ International Development Committee has recently released a report on its inquiry into disability and development. The report includes a number of recommendations to strengthen the UK government’s response to disability in its development and humanitarian work. Disability & Development report, IDC
One element of any successful medium term strategy for mobilising more global resources for the prevention of blindness must include convincing the major donors to lift their priority on disability and development. Therefore the decision by the International Development Committee to conduct an inquiry into disability and development was a welcome and important opportunity.
A number of IAPB members had made submissions and it is clear from the report that those submissions had an impact.
I had the opportunity to appear before the Committee to provide evidence this January. In the context of a broader contribution on disability and development, I was able to stress the importance of prevention and rehabilitation in addition to the essential focus on rights and services.
I am pleased to see this priority reflected in the final report.
Very positively, the report recognises the importance of considering prevention and treatment to “minimise the adverse impact of disability on development.” The report also makes the link between access to prevention, rehabilitation and treatment and access to other rights for people with disabilities.
While the focus is more general than specifically about vision issues, the combined impact of IAPB’s contributions can be seen in the references to the significance of sight restoring surgery and to the importance of trachoma amongst neglected tropical diseases.
The committee did a conscientious and intelligent job.
Most importantly they called for DFID to develop a Disability and Development Strategy so disability inclusion and attention to these significant challenges are made a priority. The next key step is to see DFID’s response. It is vital that we work with others in the disability and development community to ensure the potential generated by this important report is realised.
BoB McMullan, IAPB President
Bob McMullan,
President, IAPB

GBD Data: A good news story

We now have two sets of global estimates on the magnitude, prevalence and causes of blindness – the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Vision loss expert group and the World Health Organization’s Prevention of Blindness and Deafness Unit (WHO PBD) estimates.

graph from Briefin paper on GBD

The WHO PBD team released their estimates in 1995, 2002/4 and 2010. The GBD group has now created a ‘global vision database’, the largest systematic review of population-based published and unpublished data on vision impairment and blindness published between 1980 and 2012, and has brought out detailed estimates covering the period 1990 to 2010.
(A comparison of these datasets is available here: IAPB Briefing Paper on GBD data by Dr Kate Taylor)
A caution: Using estimates of the number of blind persons in the earlier PBD studies and comparing them with estimates for the number of blind persons from the 2010 GBD data set is not appropriate and can give rise to spurious claims.
The GBD data set presents a “good news” story:
  • 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 GBD vision loss data can be used for the setting of priorities, advocacy, development of policies and planning.
IAPB now has a new Briefing Paper that builds a case for using the GBD data for these purposes. Do download the new IAPB Briefing Paper on GBD Numbers and Prevalence and use it in your work.
Peter AcklandPeter Ackland,

A European Vision

The European Coalition for Vision (ECV) and its elections manifesto will be launched in Strasbourg on the 4th February. The coalition is a diverse group - eye health, vision, aging and diabetes focused NGOs, trade associations, and research bodies – united under the common aims of making eye health more equitable and accessible for people in Europe, and promoting the rights of persons with vision impairment.ECV poster
The coalition is urging Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to sign up to the ECV European Parliament elections manifesto. We are hoping that the MEPs take on board our concerns and support visual impairment-related issues.
What does the ECV want? The ECV recognises that Europe has a crucial and leading role to play in promoting member states’ prioritisation of eye health within health strategies and in ensuring all relevant EU legislation promotes access to eye health. The ECV calls on the EU to encourage member states to promote equitable access and provide free sight exams and treatment for the most vulnerable groups.
Further, the EU must adequately promote the rights of persons with vision impairment including encouraging member states to bolster provision of habilitation and rehabilitation, including timely counselling when a person becomes blind, and importantly ensure goods and services are accessible. 
IAPB has been working closely with the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), who have been providing valuable advice and logistical support, and other coalition members to get the launch event up and running. MEP Marian Harkin will be hosting the event and MEPs Elisabetta Gardini and Catherine Stihler will be speaking, alongside IAPB’s Peter Ackland. 
Over 25 million people experience severe vision impairment in Europe; nearly two-thirds of cases could be treated or prevented in the first place. Further, the rapid rise of diabetes and an aging population in Europe will put more people at risk of vision impairment. 
The launch of the ECV and elections manifesto will be the first step in addressing these issues. Going forward the coalition is scoping out the best means to achieve its aims, with a possible Interest group in the offing. We will need to work with consistence and perseverance, to ensure eye health gets the attention it needs.

Zoe Gray, Advocacy ManagerZoe Gray,
Advocacy Manager



The Trust and IAPB: The next 5 years

A great start to 2014 - a guest blog post from our newest 'corporate member' and an organisation that is poised to play a pivotal role in the eye health sector. Join us in welcoming the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust to IAPB! Dr Andrew Cooper gives us some insights into the Trust's decision and the role it expects to play in the future.
The beginning of 2014 marks an exciting new phase for The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust. After working closely with the IAPB for over a year, we have now become members and are very excited about the exchange of ideas and the collaboration that this will bring.
For any new funder, it takes a while to set up the organisation, agree a strategy and then embark upon choosing who to fund and how to go about making change happen. The Trust has been no exception. Peter Ackland and Joanna Conlon at the IAPB have provided a great level of support and guidance as we developed our five-year strategy to tackle avoidable blindness, and connected us to a wealth of experts across the Commonwealth who have impressed us with their capacity to develop high quality programmes with few resources. trsut logo
For the Trust, choosing to fund avoidable blindness was a major strategic decision. With a limited lifespan and a Commonwealth-wide remit, we wanted to focus on an issue where we could achieve a major step forward. Avoidable blindness was a natural choice, due to the clear evidence of the problem, in some cases (such as trachoma) an agreed strategy to deal with it, as well as the need to find new ways to speed up progress on the issue. For example, in 2011 there were 366 million people globally living with diabetes and this rate is increasing. As a result, diabetic retinopathy – a condition that occurs when high blood sugar levels damage the cells in the retina - has the potential to become the leading cause of blindness in the next 20 years, affecting the poorest people the most. The Trust can make a significant contribution to tackling this problem and to the search for and implementation of cost effective screening and treatment programmes.
I fondly recall my first few days at the Trust when I converged with Peter Ackland in several meetings. He was always passionate in explaining all about the world of avoidable blindness and who the different stakeholders are within it. I always enjoy his great sense of humour, which always helps when embarking on any partnership between organisations.
Since the early days, the Trust has gained an enormous amount through working with the IAPB, including access to global experts, shared learning and good practice, and excellent events which particularly stand out for their patriotic catering. In the series of meetings that took place in Brighton a few months ago, I remember talking at lunchtime to a group of Americans as we were being served sandwiches and chips. Genius.
Joking aside, we know that we will gain a huge amount from being members of the IAPB. Our own pan-Commonwealth programmes are now being implemented, with a focus on blinding trachoma, retinopathy of prematurity and diabetic retinopathy. We also have an overarching programme which focuses on developing training, fellowships and technology to change the way that eye health care is delivered. We hope to contribute to the IAPB through our commitment to high level advocacy, sharing the learning that emerges from our programmes and helping to develop sustainable solutions to avoidable blindness. Knowing that the organisations and sectors involved are working collaboratively towards a shared goal  provides assurance that our support really will help make a significant step forward, in this case towards eliminating avoidable blindness across the Commonwealth. The excellent cohesion shown by the members of the IAPB gives me confidence that the results shown from our own work will continue to be of use to the IAPB members long after our five-year programmes come to an end. 
Dr Andrew Miller, The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee TrustAndrew Cooper
Director of Programmes
The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust

A great year

IAPB Highlights 2013The IAPB office is now closed for the holidays and will be open again in the first week of January 2014. 
2013 has been a fantastic year – a new beginning in some respects – and has set the stage for some crucial developments over the coming years. The WHO Global Action Plan was unanimously approved this year. The Membership, together, worked on and developed the IAPB Strategic framework and shared a fantastic World Sight Day this year.
The ‘IAPB Highlights 2013’ document (PDF only) gives details about our collective achievements (and more), and sets out key priorities for us to tackle in 2014. Do download the document

Holiday header image

As the year draws to a close, we can look back with some pride at what we achieved collectively in 2013 - all of which would not have come together without our shared commitment and vision. As we look forward to a new year and to the promise of bigger milestones, let’s take a moment to celebrate the one thing that makes all our work possible - our partnership. 

'Shreveport sees Russia' at AAO

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 Dr Alan Richards, Shreveport sees Russia and Dr Denisovaand 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.

Christina Sanko


Christina Sanko,

Development Manager


WSD13: How was this year?

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”. 

Her Royal Highness, Princess Kezang Wangmo Wangchuck launches the WSD13 Report

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 13 Manila

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!

WSD13 Rwanda

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.

Tejah BalantrapuB V Tejah,

Communications Manager, IAPB



Emergency Appeals in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda

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.

CBM Appeal link

IRC appeal

Some of the other organisations running an appeal for support are:

World Food Programme - logo, appeal  OXFAM       Save the children

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.

An IAPB Action Plan for Europe

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. 

Image courtesy: UK Vision Strategy
Briefly, our Action Plan is organized around 4 major outcomes we would like to achieve: 
  • 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.
The two main target diseases we will focus on are retinopathy of prematurity and diabetic retinopathy; most of our activities are going to be planned around these diseases in the near future.
We would be happy to work with new partners from any part of Europe. Please, feel free to contact us if you believe that we could work together in the future. I hope that we can share some good examples of cooperation soon!
Prof Janos NemethProf Janos Nemeth
IAPB Chair for Europe
(Image courtesy: UK Vision Strategy)

IAPB Council of Members meetings - A Round-up

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.

IAPB Banner photo

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.

Alessandro Di Capua
Alessandro Di Capua,
Membership Manager


IAPB Council of Members meetings - Thank you!

This week it has been a real pleasure to host the 2013 IAPB Council of Members meetings in my home town of Brighton. With nearly 150 participants from over 70 member organisations, this has been the biggest Council meeting ever – a mini Hyderabad, to quote Peter Ackland. We put together breakout sessions, networking opportunities and partnered with the Sightsavers’ NTDs conference and mutually benefited from the participation.   
It was fantastic to see so many old friends and to make some new ones over the two days of sessions. The Council meeting focused on the three ‘pillars’ of IAPB’s work – membership, knowledge and advocacy – and how they can all come together in a stimulating programme.
We had put together the workshops sessions for the first time this year, and the feedback we have had has been really encouraging. We will be turning to you all to hear what you would like us to feature next year – do keep those pencils sharpened.
I am sure you will join me in congratulating the Eye Health Leaders and in thanking the L’OCCITANE Foundation for their support.  
Keep your eyes on the IAPB website as we will be posting presentations, videos and images of this year’s proceedings on the site. 
Once again, a big thank you for joining us…
Joanna Conlon,
Director of Development, IAPB

Community Eye Health Journal launches new website

The Community Eye Health Journal is delighted to announce the launch of a new website www.cehjournal.org. The new site still delivers the same excellent content as before and we have redesigned and developed the site to make it easier to use and more helpful.
Regular News & notices will keep readers up-to-date with the latest educational opportunities and resources. Our new Topics section will help you find the content you’re interested in more easily and an expanded Useful resources section now has links to the teaching and learning materials recommended in each issue of the journal.
Readers who want to write for us or share their stories can find everything they need on the new Get involved page.
Finally, the redeveloped About us section explains the work and impact of the journal in much greater detail than before and we are proud to acknowledge Our core supporters more clearly on the new site, without their generous support there would be no Community Eye Health Journal.
We think the site will give us a fantastic platform to build on in the future as we continue to develop our service to our online readers.
We hope you enjoy the new site. Please tell us what you think! You can email us, web@cehjournal.org, or chat with us on Facebook and Twitter.
Sally ParsleySally Parsley,
IT Support Manager
ICEH, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Vision Summits put eye health on the agenda in the lead up to Australia’s Federal Election

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.

Jennifer Gersbeck with key members of the Australian Government at the Vision Summit held in Sydney. 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.Jennifer Gersbeck facilitating the event with the Federal Opposition at the Vision Summit in Brisbane.

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.

Jennifer Gersbeck, CEO, Vision 2020 Australia


Jennifer Gersbeck,

CEO, Vision 2020 Australia

The Global Action Plan 2014-19: The Road Ahead

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!

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