Eye health does not feature in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and its 169 targets – a disappointing omission given its significant and immediate benefits to global prosperity and social progress. But last week, we heard the latest evidence from the soon to be released Lancet Global Commission on the multiple and consistent links between eye health and at least 10 of the SDGs. The case was compelling and is likely to resonate with political leaders.
The UNGA resolution, if passed, will present an opportunity to re-integrate vision into the SDG agenda and to motivate action by the UN and its institutions. It will also encourage a whole of government approach, by which I mean, all parts of government, especially those responsible for health, education, economic development and women’s issues, working together with civil society and the private sector on eye care.
The High-Level Event on Vision
During the high-level event, we had a glimpse of this political potential. More than 400 political leaders, UN Ambassadors, Royalty, the Head of UNICEF, civil society and the private sector gathered behind their computer screens (instead of in a stuffy UN room) to discuss vision. Some highlights included:
- Ambassador Rabab Fatima Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations formally announced that the Friends of Vision are “working towards the first ever UN resolution on vision health” and added that “we need to see efforts and real-time action from national governments to achieve the vision care targets”.
- The Foreign Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, E. P. Chet Greene, said vision holds the potential to boost our global economy and allow us to come back from Covid-19 in a fair and equitable manner. He added that “one does not have to be an economist to understand that healthy vision can help to fuel economic growth”.
- The Executive Director Henriette H Fore said that “vision was the foundation of a child’s communication skills and ability to become independent… and that is why UNICEF is putting a strong focus on vision for everyone”.
- The UN Ambassador for Australia, Mitch Fifield, said vision was “a key priority for the Australian government at home and abroad”.
- Her Royal Highness: The Countess of Wessex, GCVO, said “vision enables everyone to live their lives to the fullest, releasing their potential to learn, to work and to lead fulfilled and productive lives. This makes it fundamental to global prosperity and the Sustainable Development Goals”.
The theme of this year’s UNGA is “The Future we want, the United Nations we need”. It marks the 75th anniversary of the creation of the UN and will be the first time that many of the consultations are held virtually. The General Assembly will also need to confront the social, economic and health impacts of Covid-19. This is the backdrop for our work championing the first UNGA resolution on vision. We need to demonstrate that vision will support efforts to build back better as well as the achievement of the SDGs. This will require all of us, those working in eye care, to come together to make the case for vision as a priority global development issue.