Australia and Burkina Faso, Indonesia and Czech Republic, Guatemala and Austria, Kenya and Cook Island, Ethiopia and Pakistan, China, Malta, and Tonga: You may wonder why I have chosen to start this post with this list of very diverse countries.
Well, they co-hosted a Side Event at this year’s World Health Assembly on Universal Eye Health. At the mid-term of the current Action Plan (the Global Action Plan: Towards Universal Eye Health 2014-2019), they demonstrated the strong commitment from WHO Member States to universal eye health access and prevention of blindness across all regions.
Each of these countries – and other countries participating in the event, such as Cabo Verde, United Kingdom, Zimbabwe, Nepal, Fiji, Nicaragua, Sudan, Brazil and Thailand – shared their initiatives and successes to promote eye health.
The Indonesian government has prioritised collecting data on the current situation with Rapid Assessments of Avoidable Blindness (RAABs) in different regions of the country. They acknowledged the fact that the geographical variation in Indonesia has significant consequences on the needs and types of services to be provided. A notion that was shared by a couple of other countries: data and evidence creates the basis for adequate policies and services.
The training of eye health staff and related health cadres such as diabetes screeners led to a massive improvement of access to eye health in Tonga over the last few years. More, better trained, and more equal distribution of human resources for eye health also significantly contributed to progress in Pakistan and China. Pakistan has taken a comprehensive approach to build up human resources, from conceptualising the team, developing curricula, to setting up training centres and establishing posts. Yet, all speakers acknowledged there is still a lot to do, especially in addressing upcoming challenges such as Diabetic Retinopathy, Retinopathy of Prematurity and Myopia, as well as to address the huge urban-rural gap.
Ethiopia highlighted its successes in eliminating blinding Trachoma and other Neglected Tropical Diseases.
Malta presented the brand new Commonwealth Policy Brief on Avoidable Blindness, a guiding document for Commonwealth countries – and other countries interested – to address avoidable blindness effectively.
Diverse needs, common solutions
Despite the huge diversity of the countries sharing their successes and experiences, many commonalities were identified beyond the critical factors of evidence and human resources:
Embedding eye health in national health systems,
The importance of community based approaches,
The inclusion of eye care services in public financing and public health insurance,
And, most importantly, the necessity to work in partnerships across actors and sectors.
There are still two and a half years to implement the current Global Action Plan. The question however was raised, what’s next? It was the Minister of Health of the Cook Islands, the Hon Nandi Glassie, who took up this challenge and called for a WHO World Report on Vision, to lead the way up to 2030; a call that was endorsed by all other countries present at the event, and also brought up in the World Health Assembly when the progress report on the current Global Action Plan was presented in the Plenary.
A report from the Side-Event is available on request. Please write to me if you want to see a copy:[email protected]