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Celebrating progress on eye health in the Commonwealth

Published: 09.06.2021
Zoe Gray Advocacy Manager
IAPB

On 18th May, IAPB and Vision for the Commonwealth* celebrated the launch of the ‘Eye Health in the Commonwealth Progress Report 2018-2020’. Special guests included HRH Countess of Wessex GCVO IAPB Global Ambassador, Baroness Scotland QC Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Dr Edwin G. Dikoloti, Minister of Health and Wellness in Botswana, and Ambassador Karen-Mae Hill, High Commissioner for Antigua and Barbuda.

The progress report, authored by Dr Fatima Kyari, shows there has been considerable achievements on eye health since the landmark commitment made by heads of government in 2018. Most notably there has been a near halving of the numbers of people at risk of trachoma. Commonwealth countries have also been investing in the health-workforce and including eye health in universal health coverage, and more countries are bringing eye health to children in schools.

Yet there remain challenges. There is a need to bolster health systems and tackle eye health backlogs due to the disruption resulting from COVID-19. Plus the fact that globally over 1 billion people currently do not have access to eye health services they need. The launch also provided a platform drawing attention to the serious threat to progress on Trachoma given the UK Government’s plan to pull the plug on NTD funding.

During the event HRH The Countess of Wessex said “Eyesight needs to remain high upon the global agenda. We know all too well that healthcare has been under enormous pressure these past months, but I am heartened to see how much has been achieved in eye health around the Commonwealth and my thanks goes to the Commonwealth governments for making the gift of sight a priority.” 

The report makes a number of recommendations to advance on eye health for all, including calling for a stepping up of action and commitment to school eye health screening and treatment from Commonwealth Heads of State.

Baroness Scotland emphasised, “We need to sustain hard won gains already made throughout the Commonwealth, which is why integration of eye care within and across health systems is of such importance. It requires investment in eye health as a priority within universal health coverage plans, and in fulfilment of our collective Commonwealth commitment to building a more equitable, more inclusive, and more resilient future in which all are able to share.”

Leading the Way at the Commonwealth Health Ministers’ Meeting

Since the event, and as a result of concerted and joined-up advocacy from Vision for the Commonwealth over the past year, Commonwealth health ministers have added their backing on eye health in line with the recommendations of the progress report. At the Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting last week they collectively agreed to pursue efforts towards trachoma elimination, and upheld a focus on school eye health across the Commonwealth. This is detailed in paragraphs 38 and 39 of the outcome document.

This is an enormously positive step, demonstrating the strength of political will in the Commonwealth for eye health, and acknowledging the gravity of lack of coverage. It bodes well for Commonwealth Heads of Government policy and political processes going forward, as Vision for the Commonwealth continues to advocate for the championing of eye health by Commonwealth governments and advances in access.

Chaired by IAPB, Vision for the Commonwealth is an alliance of global eye health NGOs includes Peek Vision, OneSight, Sightsavers, The Fred Hollows Foundation and The International Coalition for Trachoma Control (ICTC).