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This week we held our first virtual meeting of the Friends of Vision group. Over 70 people were in attendance from more than 40 countries, with 20 Member States represented at Ambassador level – by far our best turnout yet.
The meeting opened with an introduction from the newly appointed co-chairs; Her Excellency Rabab Fatima, the Permanent Representative of Bangladesh and Her Excellency Geraldine Byrne Nason, the Permanent Representative of Ireland.
Ambassador Rabab Fatima was appointed as Bangladesh’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in December last year, having previously served as the country’s Ambassador to Japan. In January of this year, Ambassador Fatima was unanimously elected as the President of the UNICEF executive board. In this role, she provides strategic guidance to the agency and is responsible for ensuring its activities are responsive to the needs and priorities of recipient countries.
Ambassador Byrne Nason has been Ireland’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations since August 2017. A career diplomat, Ambassador Byrne Nason previously served as Ireland’s Ambassador to France and Monaco, as well as the Deputy Permanent Representative to the European Union. She is a passionate advocate for women’s rights and served at the Chair of the 63rd UN Commission on the Status of Women.
Bangladesh and Ireland have been staunch supporters of the Friends of Vision; advocating for the inclusion of eye health in the Political Declaration on UHC and speaking at numerous Friends of Vision events, including the launch of the World Report on Vision last year. The two Ambassadors will join Ambassador Webson, Permanent Representative of Antigua and Barbuda in leading the Friends of Vision group.
The appointment of two new co-chairs serve as part of an effort to strengthen the Friends of Vision group in advance of an impressive programme for 2020. During the meeting, Member States also agreed to formalise the membership of the Friends of Vision. The group has previously operated informally, and while participation will continue to be open to all, Member States will be invited to officially commit to contributing to the work of the Friends of Vision and to advancing the issue of vision more broadly.
The highlight of the meeting was that Member States agreed pursue a United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution on vision in the 75th session of the UN – with the adoption of the resolution planned for the late autumn of this year. The UNGA resolution will place vision alongside other development priorities and ensure it forms part of efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Many Member States expressed their support for the resolution, with some offering to be part of a smaller group who will produce a zero draft.
In addition to the above, Member States also agreed an impressive programme of activity for 2020, which includes:
It is great to see so much progress at a time when a lot of our advocacy has been put on hold.