As 2022 draws to a close, global eye health is at an inflection point when it comes to political will and action. There is increasing global recognition that access to quality, affordable eye health can unlock human potential and is critical to Universal Health Coverage and the Sustainable Development Agenda. As a sector, we have come together to advocate for some powerful political commitments (see highlights below). We should feel very proud of the progress that has been made. But more work is needed to translate these commitments into national political will and action (see some great examples of where this is already happening in our Regional Progress section). The World Health Organization’s technical tools (see Junu Shrestha on WHO Round-Up) are a key entry point to making this a reality in countries.
2023 is set to be a challenging year with the world facing a deepening economic crisis; a war in Ukraine and the multiplication of conflicts across the globe; worsening climate impacts; continuing Covid-19 recovery and growing inequities (see Brooke Blanchard on 2023 outlook). The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are at the heart of these challenges and the United Nation’s SDG Summit, marking the halfway point of the SDGs, must provide the roadmap for solutions to the world’s challenges. It is vital that improving the world’s eye health is one of those solutions.
Many exciting developments have happened this year. In June, the Vision for the Commonwealth Coalition successfully campaigned for a commitment at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Building on the 2018 Commonwealth commitment, the 2022 Communique calls on all Commonwealth countries to “take a multi-pronged approach for access to screenings and affordable vision treatments, especially for children”. Commonwealth Education Ministers also agreed to prioritise child eye health acknowledging “the positive impact it has on learning outcomes”.
The Vision for the Commonwealth’s work formed part of a broader global campaign on child eye health. In July, we took these messages to the United Nation’s Pre-Education Summit held at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. We had chalkboards filled with blurry text, we put our messages in front of government and UN decision makers, and we garnered over 200 influential signatures for our cause. Dozens of individuals met with our team and began to understand that without eye health in our schools, we will never reverse the slide on SDG 4, reimagine education, or accelerate progress on education. Vision screenings were recognised as a “a cost-effective way to detect and correct impairments that may affect children’s ability to learn” and listed as a key recommendation to Member States in the United Nations General Assembly Transforming Education Summit Action Track 1.
In July, we successfully advocated for the inclusion of eye health in the UN Political Declaration of the High-Level Meeting on Improving Global Road Safety. The UN Declaration specifically calls on governments to ensure that ‘road infrastructure improvements and investments are guided by an integrated approach that takes into account the connection between road safety and other key development issues including visual impairment’. Inclusion in the UN Political Declaration is significant as it recognises vision as a cross-cutting development issue and provides a strong basis for advocating for the inclusion of eye health across all global and national road safety policies.
We strengthened our relationships with UN Agencies – a key outcome of the UN Resolution Vision for Everyone. The International Labour Organization (ILO) are now working on a policy brief which will consider the impact of eye health on the workplace and provide guidance to workplaces on promoting good eye health. Much like the WHO’s guides, this brief will be a vital advocacy tool to persuade businesses and trade unions of the importance and benefits of supporting employee eye health. It is also a key first step in our efforts to secure the inclusion of eye health across the ILO’s programme of work, particularly at country level, and to advocate for improved workplace standards on eye health. The brief will be launched in 2023.
Finally, we have made great progress in our efforts to secure the appointment of a Special Envoy on Vision to serve as a global advocate on eye health and lead the implementation of the UN Resolution Vision for Everyone. Over 150 CEOs have signed our Letter of Support to the Secretary General – proving what a force we can be when we come together. Please join this important campaign if you haven’t already!