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Published: 08.07.2020
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Victoria Sheffield is IAPB’s Vice-President. She headed International Eye Foundation for many years and played a key role in launching VISION 2020. Victoria 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?

VISION 2020 was a brilliant tag line for our community and it really caught on as it included the word “VISION” and 2020. And in 1999 when VISION 2020: The Right to Sight was launched, we had 20 years to achieve our goals. VISION 2020 groups were established that were national such as VISION 2020 India, VISION 2020 Australia, and VISION 2020 UK, and regional bodies such VISION 2020 Latin America. VISION 2020 gave our community a platform and a plan around which to coalesce as an international initiative under the leadership of IAPB and WHO. VISION 2020 USA was a bit late to the party being launched 10 years later on 30 April 2009 at the Stone House, National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. We were fortunate to have Peter Ackland with us for that momentous occasion (the photo above). A key initiative of VISION 2020 USA has been our annual Congressional briefing in Washington, DC on World Sight Day. This gives VISION 2020 USA members the opportunity to advocate for resources for eye health both in the US and internationally. IAPB’s Vision Atlas gives all of us cause for celebration at what has been achieved. When we started in 1999, the main causes of blindness were cataract and the public health conditions that led to vision loss such as trachoma, blinding malnutrition (vitamin A deficiency), and onchocerciasis (river blindness). Today, much more and better data have brought attention to glaucoma, DR, AMD, and uncorrected refractive error. Even so, vision impairment due to cataract has been reduced from over 50% of all causes to well under 50%, even with a growing and ageing global population. Trachoma is at only 1% and blinding malnutrition and onchocerciasis don’t even show up on the pie chart which, as Dr. Serge Resnikoff told me once, is a shame since we cannot see the success in reducing vision impairment from those two causes. Needless to say, there is much to celebrate, especially what has been achieved in the low resource countries that have just that, nowhere near the resources found in the developed countries.

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 who began to take eye care seriously thanks to our advocacy?

In Australia, Bob McMullan (who is now IAPB’s President) was a Parliamentarian whose advocacy led to major financial resources from the Australian Government to AusAID. This aid helped Australian agencies make great strides in reducing visual impairment and building capacity in both Australia (amongst the indigenous populations) and low resource countries, especially in the Western Pacific region.

Another name that comes to mind is HRH the Countess of Wessex who works with IAPB to bring attention to visual impairment and the work of NGOs working in Commonwealth countries. In the US, we have the Congressional Vision Caucus (CVC) which is a bipartisan coalition of Congressional Members dedicated to strengthening and stimulating a national dialogue and policy on vision-related problems and disabilities. Prevent Blindness, a member of VISION 2020 USA, was instrumental in the initial formation of the caucus and works closely with its members today. The CVC, co-chaired by Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Rep. David Price (D-NC), and Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH), has three priority areas of focus: research, prevention/public health, and access to treatment and rehabilitation.

And I cannot forget Ambassador Aubrey Webson, Antigua & Barbuda’s representative at the UN. Aubrey, blind himself, headed the Caribbean Council for the Blind, worked with HKI and Perkins School for the Blind, and now has an esteemed position at the UN. He could have simply represented his country in the political arena, but he chose to lead by establishing the UN Friends of Vision, now with more than 50 country representatives focusing on how eye health can advance SDGs 4, 8 and 10.

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 was a platform for all of us to coalesce around. IAPB reconstituted in 2004 and developed the Council of Members (CoM), the successor to the former IAPB Partnership Committee which I chaired for six years. The CoM meets annually and included committees on strategic areas of advocacy and programmatic themes important to reaching VISION 2020 goals. The CoM continues to bring people as well as member organisations together. Many organisations partner in countries and regions where they are already working and support national and regional VISION 2020 organisations. IAPB’s website informs members about various activities, programmes, meetings, training opportunities, and advocacy initiatives that we all can support. Of course in 1999, we didn’t have the internet. Email was taking baby steps, low resource countries didn’t have it. But over the years, communications have made a paradigm shift from when we used telex in some countries, fax in most countries, and the phone whenever we could or could afford it. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated communications in a good way in that we all now meet in bigger groups and more often through Zoom, Teams, WebEx and many other platforms available to all of us.

IAPB’s webinars are becoming “must joins” to keep up with what’s going on in our world, amongst our members, and as we navigate our future in these uncertain times.

What do you think was VISION 2020’s biggest achievement, in the region and globally?

VISION 2020, a child of the much trusted IAPB and WHO, became a vehicle in which we could all participate to learn, advocate, join together, and face challenges that came before us, some eye health related and some not. It has made our world easier to understand because of the ever growing amounts and quality of data and that have given us a footprint with which to approach our leaders and advocate for resources to improve the sight and lives of all people around the world.

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!