Eye Health and COVID-19: the Response at the United Nations
On Tuesday 9th June
Last week, IAPB Head of Policy and Advocacy, Jessica Crofts-Lawrence chaired a webinar with Ambassador Aubrey Webson, Permanent Representative to the United Nations for Antigua and Barbuda, and Chair of the UN Friends of Vision and Robert Skinner, Executive Director of the UN Office for Partnerships, to discuss the COVID-19 Response at the United Nations.
A recurring theme throughout the webinar was the need for collaboration. Both speakers discussed how the pandemic has brought together international bodies, member states and civil society, consistently in both communications and action. The UN has been working in solidarity with WHO during this time to address the impact of the socio-economic crisis on vulnerable communities, and these new partnerships will continue working together after this crisis. Recent UN reforms means there is greater integration with teams on the ground and national governments. Partnerships are being built on trust, and there is the opportunity to build on this and bring the sector together.
The UN’s ‘Inclusive recovery’ and SDG mantra of ‘leaving no one behind’, was stressed by both speakers, that we bring everyone along in the recovery, both from a health and socio-economic perspective. The most vulnerable communities have been most impacted, but this allows the opportunity to bring all sectors together to work towards a better world. Sectors should work closer together from the beginning of projects on both policy and programmes.
With regards to the impact of COVID-19 on the 2030 SDG agenda, it was highlighted how the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is focused on policy briefs to turn the tide, and identify the socioeconomic fallout determined by experts such as ILO and WHO.
Ambassador Webson gave an update on the Friends of Vision (FoV), and how it had been impacted by COVID-19. At the most recent FoV virtual meeting, where forty countries attended, it was agreed by the group to increase the focus and attention on eye health. Looking ahead for the year, there will be a major meeting of the Friends in July around the High Level Political Forum, which will look at COVID-19 & its impact on Eye Health, and will involve Member States, IAPB & civil society partners. There will then be another high level event prior to UN General Assembly in September which will look at eye health and its links to the SDGs. Due to its popularity last time, the FoV also hope to coordinate another UN vision screening exhibition when it is safe to do so.
There are currently discussions to make World Sight Day a national UN day. The Friends of Vision group are working with member states on a UN resolution that calls for action by governments on Eye Health.
Another way in which the UN has responded to the pandemic is through improved communications. With the amount of inaccurate resources on COVID, The UN has created an initiative called Share Verified that provides fact based information and advice.
All speakers acknowledged the death of George Floyd, highlighting the issue of inequalities surrounding this and the significance of the UN response, and standing together with people of colour.
This webinar is part of our COVID web programme that aims to provide useful information and guidance to the eye health sector during this time. As part of our series, we will be conducting interviews with experts from across different areas of health and development to discuss key topics that are impacting the sector currently. These topics include managing inequalities, considerations for ageing and organisational response to the pandemic.
On Thursday 16th July, we will be hosting a webinar on ‘WHO’s work building on the recommendations of the World Report on Vision’ with Alarcos Cieza, United Head, Sensory Functions, Disability and Rehabilitation, WHO .