VISION 2020 and Me: Hannah Faal

The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) is an alliance of civil society organisations, private sector, and professional bodies promoting eye health through advocacy, knowledge and partnerships.
Organisation: IAPB

Hannah Faal

Hannah Faal was the President of IAPB when VISION 2020 was launched in 1999. She discusses some of the achievements of VISION 2020 in this ‘Vision Excellence‘ blog series to mark the end of VISION 2020.

What was VISION 2020’s impact on eye care and service delivery in Africa?

Soon after VISION 2020: The Right to Sight was launched in 1999, within the African Region, workshops were planned and held at regional and national levels and language groups. The message was simple, a determination to eliminate avoidable blindness by 2020 and the adoption of a comprehensive district service delivery model for about a million-population backed by a national eye care programme with a coordinator to drive it.

The impact was a heightened awareness of the problem amongst all stakeholders and the widespread acceptance of a doable district level solution. The specific spin offs from this were an increased implementation of rapid assessments of avoidable blindness (RAABs), attention to cataract blindness with an increased cataract surgical rate, neglected tropical diseases-onchocerciasis and trachoma and their eradication, and a huge increase in the human resources development strategies most importantly human resources to address refractive error.

One of VISION 2020’s key role was to bring eye care to the attention of policy holders – can you think of one or two key politicians from the region who began to take eye care seriously thanks to our advocacy?

The Ministers of Health in the region were addressed at a number of fora, within WHO Geneva and Brazzaville, within the Commonwealth Health Ministers group, regional health agencies– West African Health Organisation, East, Central and Southern Africa Health Community and disease focused programmes and their agencies African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control and much later the Global Trachoma Control Initiative which pushed eye health into the community level. Resolutions passed at the regional groups filtered to the national level.

VISION 2020 also brought people together. Can you tell me how it brought the different eye care organisations and professional bodies together over the years?

In the African sub-region, it was the NGOs who initially came together eg. the NGO coordination group in West Africa. Much more progress was made when the IAPB Africa office was set up in South Africa as it coordinated all efforts,  strengthened the partnership with WHO AFRO, streamlining the human resource development strategies, primary eye care, information management, communication, resources materials, opening into the francophone and lusophone countries etc. Africa also moved beyond eye health into the Africa wide agencies on the health work force and on research- Africa Vision Research Institute.

The professional bodies grew and strengthened at continent- (Africa Ophthalmological Council and the Africa Council of Optometry) and national levels. It was thus possible for IAPB Africa to work with them on competencies for members of the eye care team, develop Africa wide strategies for human resources and uncorrected refractive error.

What do you think was VISION 2020’s biggest achievement, in the region and globally?

VISION 2020’s biggest achievement globally was focusing attention on eye health, a reduction in the prevalence of blindness and visual impairment, elucidation of strategies to address it, and an umbrella organisation to drive it. Regionally, its success lies more in the strengthening of strategies; human resource development, primary eye care, integrating eye health within neglected tropical diseases, collection of data in RAABs, partnership between NGOs and between NGOs and governments. Its nature evolved steadily over time merging with and taking advantage of the continent’s health priorities directions and accepting to move eye health into health aligning with the MDGs and now with the SDGs.

This short Q&A is part of a series of blog posts discussing the difference VISION 2020 made to the sector. We are encouraging IAPB member organisations to nominate individuals to receive the ‘Vision Excellence Awards‘ to mark the end of VISION 2020. Send in your nominations!