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The UN’s ‘Vision for Everyone’: A Critical Turning Point for Eye Health in Small Island Developing States

Published: 04.06.2024
Jessica Thompson Director of Advocacy, Policy and Strategy

The United Nations’ resolution, ”Vision for Everyone,” was a watershed moment for global eye health. It was the first-ever UN agreement explicitly focused on preventing avoidable sight loss, firmly anchoring eye care within the broader Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This was a monumental achievement for our sector, linking eye health to 8 of the 17 SDGs and recognising its integral role in health, education, economic development, and overall well-being. 

However, turning the resolution into tangible action at the national level, especially in Small Island Developing States (SIDS), presents unique challenges and opportunities. Last week I had the honour of representing IAPB at the 4th International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4) hosted by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, who’s leadership in the United Nations was key to the UN Resolution and the Friends of Vision Group. The conference brought together over 3,000 participants, including 22 Heads of State, to discuss development challenges and opportunities for this group of vulnerable countries. Our speakers at our high-level side event on ‘Delivering Universal Eye Care’ at the Conference included the Foreign Ministers of Antigua and Barbuda, Bangladesh, the UN Ambassadors for Ireland and Portugal, UN Agencies, and experts from our member organisations, PACEyes and the Brenda Stafford Foundation.  

The SIDS Landscape: Challenges and Opportunities 

SIDS often face specific hurdles in providing comprehensive eye care due to limited infrastructure, a scarcity of eye care professionals, and vulnerability to climate change impacts. These factors can disrupt supply chains, increase the incidence of eye conditions, and create barriers to accessing essential eye care services. 

Yet, prioritising eye care in SIDS is not just about overcoming obstacles; it is also about unlocking potential. Investing in eye health yields impressive returns across multiple sectors: 

  • Economic Impact: Every dollar invested in eye care generates an average return of $36. Reading glasses alone have been shown to boost earnings by 33% in low-income communities. 
  • Education: Providing children with glasses can have an impact equivalent to half a year of additional schooling. 
  • Gender Equality: Addressing the disproportionate burden of vision loss on women and girls (who make up 55% of those affected) empowers them and contributes to gender equity. 

Bold Commitments to Eye Health 

The main outcome of the SIDS4 Conference, The Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS (ABAS), set out a bold new 10-year plan of action to deliver meaningful change. The ABAS includes a commitment to “Establishing an integrated and whole-of-government approach to address the growing challenges of vision impairment, particularly myopia and other preventable conditions, including integrating comprehensive eye care services as part of PHC and UHC”. This commitment comes just days after Commonwealth Health Ministers met in Geneva ahead of the World Health Assembly and reaffirmed their commitment to eye health as a cornerstone of universal health coverage (UHC) and health security.   

The Power of Collective Advocacy 

At IAPB, we understand the power of partnerships and collective action. Our network of over 200 organisations – NGOs, private sector entities, professional bodies, research institutions, and eye hospitals – has been at the heart of driving progress. Increasingly, our collective advocacy extends to the national level, working together with the WHO and our members to integrate eye care into national health plans and strategies. In addition, our public awareness campaigns, like World Sight Day, have galvanised millions to prioritise their eye health. 

The Path Forward: A Call to Action 

In 2026, we mark the fifth anniversary of the UN resolution. This presents a crucial opportunity for the international community to bring to life its commitment to “Vision for Everyone.” We call upon global leaders to: 

  • Prioritise Eye Health: Make concrete commitments to integrate eye care into national health systems. 
  • Invest in Eye Care: Allocate resources to address the unique challenges faced by SIDS and ensure access to affordable, quality eye care for all. 
  • Collaborate: Foster partnerships between governments, NGOs, the private sector, and civil society to drive innovation and ensure the sustainability of eye care programs. 

By working together, we can make the vision of a world where no one has avoidable sight loss a reality. The next decade is critical – let’s seize this moment to reach the billion people especially those who live in Small Island Developing States, who still lack access to the eye care they desperately need.