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Vision for the Future: Progressing towards ending avoidable sight loss and achieving the SDGs by 2030

Published: 26.07.2023
H.E. Ambassador Walton Webson Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Mission of Antigua and Barbuda, Co-chair, UN Friends of Vision and IAPB Global Ambassador

Vision is a universal issue that affects people from all walks of life, regardless of their background. Yet, poor eye health goes beyond a mere diagnosis; it is a critical development challenge shaped by social, economic, and environmental factors. This issue not only threatens the well-being of millions of people but also poses a significant obstacle to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and creating a more equitable world. 

The evidence is undeniable: 

  • In low- and middle-income countries, 90% of avoidable sight loss occurs, hindering efforts to end poverty. 
  • Around 450 million children need sight condition treatment, impacting their access to quality education. 
  • Women face a higher risk of sight loss while having limited access to essential services. 

For many years, eye health has not received the attention it deserves at the global policy level, particularly within the United Nations. However, in 2021, a turning point was reached with the adoption of the first UN resolution on vision. This resolution committed all 193 countries ensuring access to eye health services for the 1.1 billion people in need by 2030, recognizing eye health as a significant global development issue. 

Moreover, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, outlines a comprehensive plan of action for a sustainable future and although eye health was not officially included as an SDG target, it is inherently linked to achieving several SDGs. Highlighting that by improving access to eye health services not only contributes to specific goals but also benefits global eye health overall.  

However, as we reach the midpoint of 2030, the defining principles of the agenda are in peril. Data reveals that only 12% of roughly 140 SDG targets are on track, while nearly half are severely off track or stagnant. External challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, conflicts, and climate-related disasters, further hinder progress. 

As we strive for a better world, a fundamental shift is needed in commitment, solidarity, financing, and action. The eye health sector holds the power to lead strategies that address avoidable sight loss and foster significant progress across the SDGs. 

Since the resolution’s adoption, eye health has received recognition in high-level meetings, such as the UN Political Declaration on Improving Global Road Safety, and as a key recommendation at the UN Transforming Education Summit. Moreover, the global call for a Special Envoy on Vision, supported by over 75 countries and 150 CEOs, amplifies the importance of eye health in achieving the SDGs. 

While progress can sometimes feel intangible at the UN, continued engagement is vital. We must turn words and promises into action as we move forward in delivering the 2030 promise. Mobilizing national action and political commitments on eye health, especially in low- and middle-income countries, is essential. Building cross-sector partnerships and integrating eye health into other development priorities will create transformative progress. 

Establishing global eye health targets for cataract and refractive error treatments is vital for effectively monitoring progress. Eye health organizations must take proactive measures and aggressively urge their respective governments to include these global targets, as well as any national eye health plans, policies, and agendas, in their countries’ Voluntary National Reviews.  

The time has come for unwavering ambition, leveraging our abundance of knowledge, technology, and resources to put an end to avoidable sight loss and achieve universal eye care. This responsibility calls for bold actions and commitments at the global, national, and local levels to reach the 1.1 billion people living with sight loss and make significant progress towards achieving the SDGs by 2030. Together, we can create a brighter, healthier future for all.