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Published: 14.09.2020

Serge Resnikoff ran the WHO’s PBD Unit and played a critical role in delivering VISION 2020 from WHO. He discusses some of the achievements of VISION 2020 in this ‘Vision Excellence’ blog series to mark the end of VISION 2020.

What does VISION 2020 mean to you?

I had joined the WHO just as the early discussions around VISION 2020 had started. We lived in a whole different world around the mid-90s. The Iron Curtain had fallen, and a set of countries in Eurasia sprang into view. Many countries in Africa, South Asia and Latin America were slowly resolving into focus. It was also a special time in public health: DALYs were just invented; one of the first sets of epidemiological data on global blindness prevalence had just become available.

To give you a glimpse of the times, when the data showed that cataract was the primary cause of blindness, many were surprised! It was believed that trachoma would be the main cause. In that context, WHO was keen to foster coordinated action around public health topics, and eye health was among them. A small set of people and organisations coalesced first to bring about a global initiative. They came together to form a “taskforce” with the WHO. After a set of invigorating discussions and ideas, VISION 2020 was formed with many other organisations and leaders joining in.

What were VISION 2020’s key achievements? What was its impact on eye care service and delivery around the world?

VISION 2020 brought unprecedented visibility, awareness and advocacy success to eye health, especially in the ministries of health around the world. Eye health was made part of many national plans, though they were not all adequately funded. Thanks to VISION 2020 and its visibility among nation-states, the initial set of the World Health Assembly resolutions came about. Though these resolutions were non-binding, it was a good sign that nations were taking notice of eye health.

VISION 2020’s biggest impact was raising the awareness of eye health professionals around the world. They began to realise the scale of the problem and that individuals could not solve it. VISION 2020 gave them a sense of purpose. It gave them a frame around key issues and what could be done. Even to this day, I am surprised by professionals using slides I had made back in 1999 to talk about global blindness and vision impairment!

One of the reasons VISION 2020 succeeded in doing this was the clarity of its objectives. That clarity has, naturally over the course of years, led to an emphasis on quality. It has led to an understanding of the need for a team approach, adequate training and appropriate technology. VISION 2020 also made availability of data all the more feasible, including data on uncorrected refractive errors, which was unavailable for a long time.

What was VISION 2020’s impact on public health policy? What key aspects of VISION 2020 helped bring diverse stakeholders together?

VISION 2020 brought higher visibility to eye health within the WHO. The success of VISION 2020’s messaging and the visibility it gained made other eye health programmes keen to replicate the model. In fact, I was asked to do something similar within the NCDs space in the WHO.  Over time though, the nature of WHO’s engagement with civil society organisations changed, with WHO working less closely with global partnerships. I think one of the biggest examples of success is Vision 2020 Australia: they showcased what bringing people and organisations together could achieve.

Latin America is another great success. Their journey of collaboration and partnership in the past decade or so is extraordinary.

Another key success has been bringing the corporates into civil society with a clean, transparent working relationship. VISION 2020, with solid corporate partnership baked into its DNA, built on the success of the Onchocerciasis programme.

What do you think was VISION 2020’s biggest achievement?

VISION 2020 created a coherent and clear brand for eye care. Even now, after all these years, many people deeply associate eye care with VISION 2020 in many countries. Academic papers continue to quote VISION 2020 after all these years! It’s a term that subsumes a lot of complexity and means different things to different people in different contexts. VISION 2020 offered the general public a clear idea of what the problem was, and gave the sector a clear purpose – and a sense of joy in delivering it together.