Jennifer Gersbeck, Executive Director – Global Advocacy, The Fred Hollows Foundation was a previous CEO of Vision 2020 Australia. She writes about the impact of the national body in Australia, the Western Pacific region and beyond. This interview is part of the Vision Excellence Awards – do send in your nominations.
What was VISION 2020’s impact on eye care and service delivery in West Pacific?
VISION 2020 united key stakeholders in the prevention of blindness around one mission. Importantly, it provided a platform for collaboration and a set of objectives around which to direct collective efforts. This lead to reduced duplication of effort; strengthening of partnerships; and the mobilisation of substantial resources to address avoidable blindness and vision impairment in the region. Ultimately, this resulted in greater access to eye care services and a reduction in the prevalence of vision impairment across the region.
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?
While many political leaders across the region have taken eye care seriously in the last decade or so, the one key politician who made the greatest impact in the region and globally is Bob McMullan. In 2009, as Parliamentary Secretory for International Development Assistance in the Australian Government, Bob established the Avoidable Blindness Initiative initially committing $AUD45m over two years to programs in the region – the largest commitment of its type by any government at the time. Further funding followed, including support for a focal position at the WHO Western Pacific Regional Office which prioritised eye health and further strengthened the collaborative efforts of the WHO and IAPB in the region.
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?
Vision 2020 Australia is an excellent example of how to bring people together and achieve outstanding results. Over the years, by uniting the eye health sector and speaking with one voice, Vision 2020 Australia was seen by the Australian Government and Parliament as a highly respected advocacy organisation – and still is today. This enabled access to key decision makers and strengthened our ability to influence policy and funding commitments by government within Australia and the region. It also lead to greater collaboration across health and broader sectors.
What do you think was VISION 2020’s biggest achievement, in the region and globally?
The biggest achievement in the region was the establishment of the Australian Government’s Avoidable Blindness Initiative and the formation of the Vision 2020 Australia Global Consortium to implement programs funded by the initiative. Australia was always a strong supporter of eye health at the World Health Assembly, being lead sponsor of many resolutions. However, this established Australia as a leader in eye health globally. Vision 2020 Australia also achieved major breakthroughs with a National Framework for Eye Health, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Eye Health Strategy and National Diabetes Eye Health Program.