2020 is an important year for the vision sector – the culmination of a two-decade long initiative: VISION 2020: The Right to Sight.
Despite the many challenges facing the world, there is a lot to celebrate.
The World Health Organization (WHO) launched its first World Report on Vision last year – calling for coordinated and concerted global action to strengthen eye care.
This has been followed by a number of global and regional commitments for eye health:
- Heads of State committed to strengthen efforts to address eye health conditions as part of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA);
- The East, Central and Southern Africa Health Community Health Ministers passed a resolution on equity and access to eye health recognising the need for increased resources for eye care; and
- A World Health Assembly (WHA) resolution, approved by the WHO Executive Board and on the brink of adoption, will commit countries to implementing the World Report on Vision.
IAPB, the overarching alliance for the global eye care sector, has been at the forefront of efforts to increase the global profile of vision and avoidable blindness. Our advocacy activities at the WHO and the UN seek to ensure that eye health is included and addressed within wider global commitments and targets.
Vision is now recognised as a critical part of UHC and increasingly as a key contributor to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Friends of Vision, a group of UN Ambassadors, supported by IAPB, has been promoting the links between vision and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the United Nations – with great success. The group, led by Antigua and Barbuda, Bangladesh and Ireland, has announced plans to campaign for the first ever UNGA resolution on vision in the UN’s 75th session.
The UNGA resolution, if passed, will be a landmark – lifting vision up next to other development priorities for the next decade of action and delivery on the SDGs.
Where do we go from here?
The Decade of Action on the SDGs presents a major opportunity to get vision further up the political agenda. Eye health is not just a health issue – it transforms people’s lives and increases their potential. It is in many ways the golden thread running through the SDGs; from poverty reduction to economic growth and employment, to education, gender and reducing inequalities. Vision is the single most effective health intervention for school children; giving a child a pair of properly prescribed glasses can improve attendance and performance at equivalent to half a year of schooling. Providing glasses has also been shown to improve work productivity by 22%, enabling working age adults to get and keep a job.
Today, one billion people live with a visual impairment which could have been prevented or is yet to be addressed. For every person unable to see a country losses potential in its population. The major challenge remains reducing the inequity in coverage. The poorest and most socially disadvantaged members of society are the hardest hit.
To reach everyone will take commitment and money. According to the World Report on Vision, the cost for closing the gap for those without access to eye care is more than US$14 billion. The return on this investment would be enormous; the global economy could make US$19trn in productivity gains over the next three decades by treating preventable vision impairment and blindness.
We need to persuade governments that prioritising vision is not only a health imperative but a means of unlocking growth and development – bringing millions of people, including the most vulnerable, into the global economy.