On Friday, March 24th, the Friends of Vision convened their first Member State meeting of 2023 at the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations in New York. The meeting, graciously hosted by H.E. Mr. Fergal Mythen, Permanent Representative of Ireland, H.E. Mr. Walton Webson, Permanent Representative of Antigua and Barbuda, and H.E. Mr. Monwar Hossain, Deputy Permanent Representative of Bangladesh, garnered substantial participation. Sixteen Member States actively participated, while representatives from three Civil Society Organizations and the World Health Organization were present, ensuring a diverse and engaged gathering.
Special Envoy on Vision
One of the main topics of discussion was the campaign to appoint a Special Envoy on Vision at the United Nations. The co-chairs highlighted that the campaign has received endorsement from more than one-third of world governments, indicating significant progress. The group agreed to continue their efforts in raising awareness and seeking support for the Special Envoy on Vision within the United Nations system. They also decided to make a direct appeal to Secretary-General António Guterres in the coming months, with requests for meetings from both Member States and civil society organizations, in order to further strengthen the campaign’s influence.
Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs)
Another important issue discussed was the inclusion of eye health in the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). Member States strongly advocated for making eye health a policy priority for 2023 and emphasized the need for its inclusion in the VNRs. To support this, the Eye Health Guidance for VNRs was disseminated, providing additional guidance to Member States on reporting their national eye health status and progress in implementing the UN Resolution. This guidance received positive reception throughout the UN system.
The Friends of Vision Secretariat have made efforts to engage with specific countries, such as Ireland, Portugal, Rwanda, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, and Maldives, to ensure that eye health is adequately considered in the review and drafting process. The goal is to have meaningful inclusion of eye health in the VNRs, and if achieved, the group recommended organizing a VNR Lab during the High-Level Political Forum in 2024. The VNR Lab would provide a platform for Member States and stakeholders to learn from good practices and enhance reporting on eye health.
To sustain global momentum for eye health, the group identified opportunities to integrate the issue within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Member States agreed to support the inclusion of eye health in the negotiation process of two Political Declarations coming out of the High-Level Meetings on Universal Health Coverage and Pandemic Prevention Preparedness and Response as well as the outcome document for the SDG Summit (a follow-up and review of the state of the SDGs implementation) convening during the 78th United National General Assembly (UNGA) high-level week at UN Headquarters in New York. The Friends of Vision will have a more visible and active role during the United National General Assembly (UNGA) high-level week, including holding a High-Level Roundtable Breakfast Meeting to advocate for eye health as a fundamental global issue.
Overall, the meeting provided a platform for assessing progress in eye health and agreeing on future activities. The appointment of a Special Envoy on Vision, the focus on eye health in VNRs, and the involvement in high-level events and negotiations all contribute to the call for increased political commitment and global accountability in addressing eye health. The meeting was considered a success in advancing the cause of improving eye health worldwide.