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The Commonwealth: a grouping of 56 countries, spanning every continent bar Antarctica; every geography from small islands to vast countries; every income bracket from low to high income; a third of the world’s population; and meeting at heads of government level every two years, with a wide agenda covering any issue of shared concern. Eye health is an issue for every Commonwealth citizen, wherever they live. While much remains to be done, Commonwealth countries have developed considerable expertise in eye health tailored to their own situation, be it quality, affordable services for scattered rural populations (India); sharing services amongst small populations dispersed over huge expanses of ocean (Pacific island nations); tackling the issues arising from modern day, less active lifestyles and for older citizens (Caribbean); or making huge strides to stamp out the curse of blinding trachoma (Africa) – to name but some – and have a great deal to share, with each other and with the rest of the world.
So it was no surprise that IAPB member organisations chose to target the Commonwealth to raise awareness of eye health and spur progress across the globe. In the lead up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) which took place in London in 2018, they began lobbying on their separate tracks for eye health to become part of the Commonwealth’s agenda. It was not long before they decided to join forces with a shared platform to achieve greater impact as one than they could separately: Vision for the Commonwealth was born. I had the privilege to chair it in its first phase, bringing to the party the Commonwealth experience and networks of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust. As a former diplomat, I had had the experience of leading coalitions of the like-minded before. But none was so exhilarating as Vision for the Commonwealth. The networks and expertise, not to mention positive energy, enthusiasm and wealth of ideas that participants brought to the table were a constant inspiration. The active engagement of the Trust’s Vice Patron and IAPB global ambassador, Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex, was of immense help in in raising the profile of eye health and bringing it to the attention of decision makers across the Commonwealth.
In 2018 CHOGM became the first international summit to address eye health, committing to:
“take action towards achieving access to quality eye care for all, including eliminating blinding trachoma by 2020, which disproportionately affects women and children across the Commonwealth” and agreeing that progress should be considered every two years at the Commonwealth Health Ministers’ Meeting and reported at CHOGM.”
This was the opening of the next chapter. Vision for the Commonwealth, now under the chairmanship of Peter Holland, maintained efforts and focus through the difficult period of the pandemic, until CHOGM, initially scheduled for 2020, was finally able to take place last week in Kigali, Rwanda. This time the aim was to secure a commitment that was more precise and targeted, allowing progress to be tracked and celebrated. With more than 60% of the Commonwealth’s population under 30, a particular focus on children’s vision was apt. Knowing that Vision for the Commonwealth had all the ingredients for success, I was delighted but unsurprised that CHOGM once again highlighted eye health. Heads of Government took note of the progress made in increasing access to quality eye care and encouraged “a multi-pronged approach for access to screenings and affordable vision treatments, especially for children.”
Vision for the Commonwealth will now direct its efforts to ensuring that this leads to further real progress for people on the ground, as well as supporting efforts at the global level to advance the cause of quality eye health services for all.
Another chapter successfully completed: well done to all involved!
Eleanor Fuller OBE was Director of Advocacy at The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust from 2013 to 2020. The Trust closed in 2020 on successful completion of its mission.