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Published: 21.10.2020
Jessica Crofts-Lawrence Head of Policy and Advocacy
International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness
Ambassador Fatima
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What will a United Nations General Assembly resolution mean for the prioritisation of eye health?
Last week, the Friends of Vision, a group of United Nations’ Ambassadors, announced that they will pursue the first-ever United Nations General Assembly resolution on eye health. The first of many steps but significant as it has made the intention public. But what will a UNGA resolution, if passed, mean for the prioritisation of eye health?

First, what is the UNGA?
The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA or General Assembly) is the main policymaking body of the United Nations, and the only forum in which all countries are represented equally. Many of us think of the General Assembly as the two-week event in September where Heads of Government, UN officials, ministers and the occasional celebrity gather in New York for a series of speeches. However, the General Assembly actually runs all year from September to December (main committee meetings), and thereafter, from January to September (resumed sessions). During this time, the General Assembly conducts consultations with countries on a wide range of topics from poverty to education, human rights, climate change and increasingly health. Many of these consultations culminate in a resolution which, although non-binding on states, have symbolic political value. General Assembly resolutions have set global frameworks for action; the Millennium Declaration and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDG Goals) were both born out of GA resolutions. They can also shift global perceptions of an issue and push it up the world’s collective agenda.

This is what we hope a UNGA resolution will provide to eye health; a shift to a health and development issue and a push up the world’s collective agenda.

 

Eye health and the SDGs

Infographic showing which SDGs vision impacts including Goal 1: No poverty Goal 2: Zero hunger Goal 3: Good health and well-being Goal 4: Quality education Goal 5: Gender equality Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth Goal 10: Reducing inequality
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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”.

What next?
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.