Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) form a part of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. They enable countries to evaluate their progress towards the achievement of the 2030 SDGs. This progress is then presented at the annual High Level Political Forum (HLPF), the UN’s main platform on sustainable development. Since 2016, 176 out of 197 member states have completed at least one VNR. This proves despite their voluntary nature countries can appreciate the value of the reviewing process.
As part of the UN Resolution on eye care member states are encouraged to “consider addressing the situation of eye health in their voluntary national reviews”. It is paramount the eye health sector follows up on this as VNRs provide a fundamental part of progression towards the goal of eye care for all by 2030.
This can be demonstrated firstly through the learning experience VNRs facilitate. It is highly recommended VNRs cover successes, challenges and next steps in regard to the goals they discuss. Successes can enable members states to prove to other countries the benefits of improving eye care and encourage peer learning. Recognising challenges can help the eye health sector focus our resources. Finally, publishing next steps enables progress to be tracked and built upon in subsequent reviews. This priceless learning experience is why VNRs are described by the UN as the “means” towards the end goal of the 2030 SDGs.
Secondly, countries are encouraged to cover all of the SDGs in their reporting. In 2020 28 countries did cover all 17 SDGs, 11 covered the majority of them, 5 addressed some and 1 referred to none. This provides a golden opportunity for the impact of eye care across 10 of the 17 SDGs to be identified and consequently amplified in the public sphere.
Finally, another key aspect of the VNRs is the requirement for multistakeholder involvement. As part of the UN’s pledge to ‘leave no one behind’ member states are encouraged to engage all sectors of society when creating the VNRs. This is valuable to the eye care sector as it promotes communication across the public sector, private sector and civil society, raising the profile of the issue.
All of these aspects of the VNR would serve to enable progression within the eye health sector.
However, inclusion of eye health in a country’s VNR is certainly not guaranteed. There is no requirement that countries even have to include all SDGs, let alone all issues related to each SDG. Despite this, there are four key factors advocates and members can focus on to work towards the inclusion of eye care in a VNR.
- Engagement with the process: This entails ensuring advocates are aware of the timeline of the VNR process and who is leading the process within the country they are focusing on.
- Working with a variety of stakeholders: This has a dual effect as it not only serves the UN leaving no one behind pledge but will also enhance the eye care data collection process which is vital for providing a compelling review.
- Awareness of the limited word count: Countries are encouraged to set a word limit at the beginning of the VNR process, with 17 SDGs there is a lot to cover therefore communication on key eye care messages should be clear and concise. Further, it could be beneficial to emphasise the importance of eye care within broader issues which the advocate believes are certain to be included.
- Knowledge of national priorities: Instead of covering all SDGs countries can focus on priority goals, this may be due to domestic interests or could be in line with that year’s HLPF theme. Knowledge of how eye health fits with the theme or domestic interests can lead to more effective advocacy.
Overall, VNRs provide an exciting opportunity to elevate the position of eye care within the global framework on sustainable development. Following up on the UNGA resolution’s recommendation of inclusion of eye health within VNRs will be challenge for the eye sector but one that is likely to pay off.
Image on top: School children with their spectacles/ Photo by Sarita Gupta