The new year offered us a chance to review the progress (and considerable challenges) of the global integrated people-centred eye care (IPEC) implementation process in a review meeting on January 20. As we have come to expect during the pandemic, flexibility is an asset – and once again, a meeting that was planned as hybrid (face-to-face for those in Melbourne) was at the last minute held purely online. Perhaps fitting given the experience of IPEC programmes globally which consistently wrestled with Covid induced restrictions during 2021!
The Western Pacific Regional Chair, Ms Amanda Davis, welcomed participants from across the Western Pacific, Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa regions and reminded attendees of the importance of IPEC – a direct deliverable of the World Report on Vision, that was further strengthened by last year’s World Health Assembly Resolution. She was followed by Elise Moo, Global Research Coordinator for the Fred Hollows Foundation who briefed the audience on the Advanced IPEC Project (A-IPEC) which is funded by the Australian NGO Cooperation Program.
We were privileged to have updates from A-IPEC projects in both the Philippines and Ethiopia where work is being carried out with national governments to implement the IPEC objectives. An important takeout was the way A-IPEC has been working to find common ground between the goals of IPEC and existing programmes. For example, Dr Leo Alcantara presented on the Community Eye Health Project (CEHP) in the Philippines, which is being highlighted as a fine example of IPEC – the Fred Hollows Foundation is exploring ways that CEHP can be expanded and further strengthened.
Dr Yeneneh Mulugeta Deneke from Ethiopia described some of the challenges faced by the project during 2021 – from Covid to civil strife. Nevertheless, one of the real successes was developing a Technical Working Group with the Ministry in order to steer implementation of WHO’s ECSAT. The ECSAT – Eye Care Service Assessment Tool is the first building block in implementing Integrated People Centred Eye Care.
Dr Gillian Cochrane from Brien Holden Foundation has also been carrying out one of the first ECSATs, but in Papua New Guinea. Like Dr Yenneh, she was able to report that local buy-in and strong in-country communication was integral to data collection. Also similar to Ethiopia, local issues (in addition to the pandemic) proved challenging in PNG during 2021. Dr Cochrane cautioned that many participants found the ECSAT difficult as they saw it as identifying problems or gaps rather than finding opportunities. Her tip to participants was to work particularly hard to ensure local groups understand this is a planning tool, and not a ‘big stick’ from WHO.
The hard work in challenging circumstances from eye health practitioners all over the world has paid off, resulting in the Introduction to IPEC course. Participants were given a sneak peak at the meeting of this course, jointly developed by IAPB and Fred Hollows Foundation. It’s a great output – and as IAPB regions updated on their regional policy dialogue plans, it became clear how important this course will be to those undertaking IPEC advocacy. The presentation was a fitting close to the session and for those who are interested to learn more, you can find the free, interactive course here.