Anna McKeon Director of Policy, Advocacy and Strategy IAPB
Our achievements as a sector for global advocacy on eye health have surpassed our expectations this year.
We anticipated 2023 to be a challenging year, with a deepening economic crisis, the multiplication of conflicts across the world, and worsening climate impacts. Given our successes in recent years, we were also prepared for the spotlight to shift from eye health to other pressing global issues.
This has not been the case. In January, over 60 Member States and over 150 civil society organisations wrote to UN Secretary-General António Guterres calling on him to create a Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Vision. The call for the special envoy was carried throughout the year, most recently being a key focus at the Value of Vision high-level breakfast meeting in the margins of the United Nations General Assembly. This event was hosted by the Prime Minster of Antigua and Barbuda, attended by Prime Ministers from Nepal and Saint Kitts and Nevis, Ministers of Health and senior representatives from over 10 countries, including India, Portugal, Singapore, and Romania, and representatives from UN institutions such as the ILO, UNICEF, and UN-ORHLLS.
The event was part of a season of initiatives to continue to raise awareness of the importance of eye health in achieving over half of the sustainable development goals. In early September, the ILO launched their joint policy brief with IAPB on Eye Health and the World of Work, and a few weeks later UN Women launched their joint policy brief “No women left behind: Closing the gender and inclusion gap in eye health” with The Fred Hollows Foundation. Both events and briefs were well received and will provide a platform for further engagement and advocacy with broader audiences. Finally, over World Sight Day, the Friends of Vision, WHO, and Love Your Eyes campaign held a photo exhibition in the corridors of UN Headquarters in New York. The exhibition focused on the connection between eye health and the SDGs, with some images specially treated to show how someone with specific eye conditions would see the image.
This year we renewed our collaboration with the WHO for 2024-2026 and are excited to support them with the launch and development of their new SPECS initiative. To further global awareness of the refractive error crisis, we are planning to work with a number of countries to host a side event at the 77th World Health Assembly, leading to a possible resolution on refractive error in 2025.
We continue to advocate for the implementation of IPEC at a regional and national level, particularly through national and regional networks and workshops, including the Advocacy to Action series of events. In the summer we launched Advocacy for Eye Health: A Beginner’s Guide to members to advocacy for eye health in their own contexts.
Despite the continued challenging global context, our experiences this year have shown us that there is a growing momentum to support global action on eye health. We are entering 2024 hopeful, and ever more committed to supporting the powerful coalitions for change that reach across and beyond the eye health sector.