Van Lansingh was the regional coordinator for VISION 2020 Latin America for over a decade. He discusses some of the achievements of VISION 2020 in this ‘Vision Excellence‘ blog series to mark the end of VISION 2020.
What was VISION 2020’s impact on eye care and service delivery in Latin America?
In the two decades since VISION 2020 launched, Latin America has emerged as the best mapped region in the world. Over the years we have managed to establish a good baseline, which has helped us to measure progress over time. A good example would be Mexico which has seen a 30% reduction in the prevalence of blindness – I would hazard that this is the reduction across the region. In Paraguay, we now know that the prevalence of blindness came down from 3% to 1%. Every country in Latin America has a baseline, and it can be used to measure progress.
Thanks to VISION 2020’s advocacy efforts, at one point, every Latin American country had a Prevention of Blindness or VISION 2020 committee. This had a big impact on the CSR rates in the region. In 1999, when VISION 2020 was launched, the average CSR rate was 800. This rate roughly doubled to 1600 in ten years. Brazil, Chile and Argentina all saw an explosion in CSR rates.
One of VISION 2020’s key role was to bring eye care to the attention of policy holders – can you think of one or two key politicians from the region who began to take eye care seriously thanks to our advocacy?
VISION 2020’s advocacy success delivered concrete benefits to millions of people in the region over the years. Brazil, for example, began to support 30,000 cataract surgeries every year. Mexico’s “Seguro Popular” public insurance scheme financed nearly 80,000 cataract surgeries at one point. This was also true in Argentina where reporting on cataract surgeries was made mandatory. Chile supported cataract surgeries and treatment for Diabetic Retinopathy under “Ges”, their coverage scheme for those who couldn’t afford treatment.
These successes were only possible because of our success in convincing a variety of politicians and policy-makers of the impact of eye care and the need to ensure their people had access to it.
VISION 2020 also brought people together. Can you tell me how it brought the different eye care organisations and professional bodies together over the years?
VISION 2020 in Latin America stood on three “legs”: IAPB, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the Pan American Academy of Ophthalmology (PAAO). Our work was an exemplar of partnership and the benefits accruing from three peak bodies working together to deliver public health. This benefited eye care in public health in a number of ways, including the creation of a “Prevention of Blindness” curriculum for all training hospitals in the region.
A variety of eye care organisations also came to work together in unison, thanks to VISION 2020. This led to concerted efforts and a variety of successes under the VISION 2020 umbrella.
IAPB also published a VISION 2020 newsletter and website and made content available in three languages. It helped build a culture of publication and material-sharing in the region. We published and shipped the Community Eye Health Journal in Spanish. We also produced a precursor to the IAPB Vision Atlas, bringing together a variety of eye care data in the region onto a website. These efforts fostered a sense of togetherness, purpose and information-sharing.
What do you think was VISION 2020’s biggest achievement, in the region and globally?
Globally, VISION 2020 brought recognition to eye health, ensuring that it stood out among a swath of causes and conditions. In the previous decade, eye health has increasingly become a proxy indicator for health access. Our work has meant that there are dedicated teams within larger global health efforts, like the Global Burden of Disease for example, which have dedicated groups to eye health. This I think is a lasting contribution of VISION 2020.
This short Q&A is part of a series of blog posts discussing the difference VISION 2020 made to the sector. We are encouraging IAPB member organisations to nominate individuals to receive the ‘Vision Excellence Awards‘ to mark the end of VISION 2020. Send in your nominations!