The 73rd World Health Assembly took place at the beginning of this week. The annual convention typically brings together health ministers, international organisations and NGOs in Geneva for a week of speeches, technical briefings, side events and meetings. However, for the first time in the WHA’s history the meeting was held virtually. The agenda was condensed and much more focused, with COVID-19 rightly dominating the agenda.
The Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus opened the conference with a moment of recognition for the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife and the incredible contribution and sacrifice that nurses and midwives have made to the fight against COVID-19. The Director General also announced his intention to initiate an independent evaluation to review the lessons learned from COVID-19, and to make recommendations to improve pandemic preparedness and response.
The coronavirus pandemic threatens to unwind decades of progress in health, development and equality. There was a strong call from the Director General to ensure that progress on the triple billion targets and the Sustainable Development Goals is kept on track. Such global targets, “must serve as motivation to redouble our efforts, and to work aggressively in pursuit of the healthier, safer, fairer world we all want”.
Update on Eye Health at the World Health Assembly
The Director General also issued a progress report which included an update on universal eye health and the global action plan 2014-2019. The report recognised the work done by the WHO vision team and the global eye care sector to strengthen capacity and scale up country action over the last year. In particular, World Sight Day and the first set of country launches of the World Report on Vision were identified as critical for galvanising action and improving awareness of the prevention and treatment of loss of vision.
IAPB was invited to participate in the virtual WHA and to submit a statement on behalf of the global eye care sector in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic response. We took this opportunity to commend the work of the WHO and call on world leaders to support the WHO’s efforts at this critical time. We also highlighted the need to consider how eye care services might begin to resume, recognising the need for catch-up measures to deal with the current backlog of patients and to avoid irreversible progression of diseases.
As we emerge from the pandemic, IAPB and the global eye care sector stand ready to work with WHO, member states and the wider international community on integrating eye care as core part of Universal Health Coverage and resilient national health care systems.
IAPB Statement to the 73rd World Health Assembly:
On behalf of the global eye care sector, we commend the leadership of the WHO during the COVID-19 crisis and urge global health leaders to support the organisation in coordinating the response. The WHO has played a vital role supporting governments and civil society to protect the vulnerable, including those who are blind or have sight loss.
The COVID-19 pandemic is posing an unprecedented challenge to health systems across the world. The eye care sector, like all other health sectors, has had to adapt to combat the spread of the corona virus, and ensure the safety of patients and health workers. In line with public health measures, particularly physical distancing, most eye health programmes have been postponed and many eye health workers have been deployed to other areas of health, including dealing with the COVID-19 response.
As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to evolve, it will be important to consider how eye care services might begin to resume, recognising the need for catch-up measures to deal with the current backlog of patients and to avoid irreversible progression of diseases. The global eye care sector is committed to working the WHO, and with countries and communities, on the recommencement of eye care services so that patients can get the care they need, and the wider health, social and economic impacts of COVID-19 are not further amplified.
The World Report on Vision set out the framework for countries to guide action to strengthen eye care within and across their health systems. We commend the work undertaken by Member States to implement the recommendations of the report since then. As we emerge from the pandemic, IAPB and the global eye care sector stand ready to work with WHO, member states and the wider international community on integrating eye care as core part of Universal Health Coverage and resilient national health care systems.