The Friends of Vision group of United Nations Member States consists of country representatives, including at Ambassador level, from more than 50 countries. The Friends of Vision is chaired by Ambassador Aubrey Webson of Antigua and Barbuda, Ambassador Rabab Fatima of Bangladesh, Ambassador Byrne Nason of Ireland.
The group is supported by an active secretariat chaired by IAPB and includes The Fred Hollows Foundation; Sightsavers; OneSight; Vision Spring; Vision Council of America and CBM.
The Friends of Vision group aims to advance the issue of eye health within the context of the SDGs, to raise its profile on the international agenda, and to share knowledge from the sector with and among Member States. It has developed a strong and credible voice in UN political processes. For instance, it successfully advocated for the inclusion of eye health within a UN Declaration – the first-time eye health has been included in a UN document at that level.
The group is currently championing the first UN General Assembly resolution on Vision. The resolution has been tabled and is expected to be adopted in Spring 2021. The resolution would explicitly recognize the important contribution eye health can make to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals; and motivate action by countries, the private sector, the UN, and its institutions.
The UN Friends of Vision has held numerous events and meetings both virtually and at the United Nations.
Vision Screening and Exhibition: In November 2019, the group held a Vision Screening and Exhibition in the UN lobby in New York together with the WHO, UN Medical Office, IAPB and its members. During the event, more than 500 Ambassadors and UN staff got their eyes tested. Out of those examined, close to 90% needed glasses, with the vast majority needing the multifocal correction/progressives. 10% of people said that this was their first eye exam.
Official side event at the SDG High-Level Political Forum: The first virtual event held by the Friends of Vision with great success; over 600 people watched the event live either on Zoom or Facebook.
High-Level World Sight Day: In October 2020, the group held its most successful, high-level event yet, this took place shortly after World Sight Day with more than 400 people participating. The event featured a preview of the upcoming Lancet global report on vision, remarks by all three Ambassador co-chairs, the Executive Director of UNICEF, the Countess of Wessex and the Assistant Secretary-General for WHO in New York. The event was used as a platform for the Friends of Vision members to introduce plans for the UNGA resolution.
Launch of the IAPB Vision Atlas and Lancet Global Health Commission on Global Eye Health: On 24 February 2021, the UN Friends of Vision hosted the formal launch of The Lancet Global Health Commission on Global Eye Health and the IAPB Vision Atlas. Over 600 Ambassadors and mission representatives, UN officials, academics, civil society, private sector organizations and media attended the event.
The event was moderated by journalist and TV personality, Femi Oke and included keynote addresses from H.E. Volkan Bozkir, President of the UN General Assembly and Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF and responses from senior UN officials including Stewart Simonson Assistant-Director General of the WHO and Beate Andrees, Special Representative to the UN and Director of the International Labor Organization.
HLPF Side event: Eye Health & SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth: On 13 July 2021, the UN Friends of Vision hosted an official United Nations High Level Political Forum Side Event on Eye Health & SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth. The event saw representatives from government, the World Health Organization, civil society, the private sector, and the eye health sector join live.
The event was moderated by journalist and TV personality, Femi Oke and included keynote addresses from Hon. Sir Molwyn Joseph, Minister of Health, Wellness and the Environment, Antigua and Barbuda and Stewart Simonson Assistant-Director General of the WHO. The event included a panel discussion from Jennifer Gootman, Vice President, Sustainability & Corporate Responsibility, Williams-Sonoma, Ella Gudwin, CEO, Vision Spring and Stefan Tromel, Senior Disability Specialist, International Labour Organisation.