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World Health Assembly: New targets for a new decade on eye health

Published: 09.06.2021
Jessica Crofts-Lawrence Head of Policy and Advocacy
IAPB
Holly Aindow Advocacy and Policy Officer
IAPB
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The focus of this year’s World Health Assembly was on ending the current pandemic and preventing the next. It was a moment to reflect, to remember the lives that have been lost and to take notice of the stark and growing inequity in health. It was also a moment to look forward and consider how we can all come together to build a healthier, safer and fairer world.

Great strides were made – over 30 resolutions and decisions were adopted in different areas of public health: decisions on diabetes, disabilities, ending violence against children, HIV, hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections, local production of medicines, malaria, neglected tropical diseases, noncommunicable diseases, nursing and midwifery, oral health, health and care workforce and eye care.

On eye health, world health leaders agreed to adopt two new ambitious global targets for 2030.  The targets address the two leading causes of blindness and vision impairment, cataract and refractive error.

All countries have now committed to:

  • 40 point percentage increase in effective coverage of refractive error by 2030
  • 30 point percentage increase in effective coverage of cataract surgery by 2030

The targets cement the World Health Assembly resolution on eye health adopted last year, and provide a vital mechanism to monitor global progress on eye health and to hold governments to account.

Of course, this is just the first step. What is critical now is for countries to implement the World Report on Vision and report their progress to the World Health Organization.

To support the implementation of the targets, the WHO is producing a monitoring framework for eye care fully aligned to Universal Health Coverage. This will include technical guidance and a tool to facilitate the collection data on the global targets by countries. In addition, a further 30-40 eye care indicators will be available for countries to select in order to better monitor progress against national and sub-national priorities.

The adoption of the two targets comes as world leaders conclude their negotiations on the first resolution on eye health at the United Nations which links eye health directly to many of the Sustainable Development Goals. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus took the opportunity to voice his support for this landmark resolution.

Many countries took the opportunity to voice their support for the eye care targets and commend the World Health Organization for their ongoing work on blindness and vision impairment. A few examples include:

A spokesperson from the Russian Federation stated, “Russia is continually working in this field and have set a goal to achieve 100% access for corrective treatments for refractive anomalies and cataract surgery by 2030.”

Botswana acknowledged that refractive error and cataracts are the leading causes of blindness and visual impairment globally. A spokesperson for Botswana highlighted “Botswana fully supports the recommended targets and calls for effective integration on essential eye health services into primary and community health care.”

A spokesperson for Portugal and the European Union commended the decision of the targets and highlighted this as a “major milestone towards reaching universal health coverage” and called for their inclusion in frameworks used to monitor Universal Health Coverage.

Austria commended WHO for not losing focus on this public health challenge and stated, “The proposed targets are crucial as they address the two leading causes of avoidable blindness and visual impairment.”

China highlighted that it is currently formulating a national eye health plan for 2021- 2025 focusing primarily on children and the elderly.

A spokesperson for the Philippines called for “strength, support and collaboration for the development of the monitoring and evaluating framework, data systems and integration of eye care into UHC.”

Indonesia agreed that the global efforts are needed to address the most common causes of visual impairment and avoidable blindness and supported the adoption of the global targets to be adhered to by 2030.

A spokesperson for India, highlighted that “there is a concern about the global burden of blindness and visual impairment.” Adding “India launched a comprehensive eye care programme with a goal of reducing the prevalence of avoidable blindness with a target of 0.25% reduction by 2025.” India fully supports the adoption of the proposed targets.

Speaking during the meeting, a spokesperson for Kenya highlighted that “Kenya’s current eye care programme features treatment for refractive error and cataract surgery, these are two key indicators used to monitor the programmes success.”

During the World Health Assembly, IAPB, Sightsavers, The Fred Hollows Foundation, Light for the World and CBM, together with the Governments of Australia and Indonesia, hosted a high-level side event and technical briefing on eye health and the new targets.

Over 250 health ministers and government officials, WHO representatives, civil society, academic, private sector organisations, and eye health experts attended the event.