As we mark World Health Day and celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the World Health Organization, we must re-double our efforts to reach the ambitious eye health targets for 2030.
This year’s World Health Day theme is ‘Health For All’ and for those of us in the sight sector our collective aim remains a world where no one experiences unnecessary or preventable sight loss. Our Love Your Eyes campaign, and all our advocacy work, puts this at its centre, calling on governments and businesses to make eye health accessible, available, and affordable for everyone by 2030.
The WHO’s 75th anniversary presents an excellent opportunity to reflect on all the success we have achieved by working together on eye care.
Our relationship with the WHO goes back decades. Founded in 1948, the WHO was first seen to be associated with eye care in 1952, when it convened an expert committee on trachoma. However, it was in 1975, when the World Health Assembly first adopted a resolution requesting the Director-General to take action against the problem of blindness and to establish initiatives against trachoma, xerophthalmia, cataract, onchocerciasis, ocular trauma, and glaucoma. This resolution was to be the basis for the establishment of the WHO Programme for the Prevention of Blindness in 1978.
VISION 2020: The Right to Sight
The launch of VISION 2020: The Right to Sight – the Global Initiative for the Elimination of Avoidable Blindness in the year 2020 marked a significant step up in action. VISION 2020: The Right to Sight was launched in 1999 by the World Health Organization and the IAPB. It sought to promote:
“A world in which nobody is needlessly visually impaired, where those with unavoidable vision loss can achieve their full potential.”
VISION 2020 was pivotal in:
- achieving unified advocacy for key priorities for eye health at a global, regional, and national level
- strengthening national prevention of blindness programmes, committees, and focal points
- supporting the development of national eye care plans and
- advocating for stronger evidence in the field.
VISION 2020 was reinforced by four World Health Assembly resolutions in 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2013.
Since then, we have made significant strides in raising the profile of vision and eye health. Our focus now is on achieving Integrated People Centred Eye Care, as set out in WHO’s 2019 World Report on Vision and on elevating eye health as a wider economic, social and development issue, one of the objectives of our new sector strategy, 2030 In Sight.
The key recommendations of the World Report on Vision include:
- Making eye care an integral part of Universal Health Coverage
- Implementing integrated people-centred eye care in health systems.
The 2020 World Health Assembly resolution urged integrated people centred eye care to be embedded within t Universal Health Coverage and to expand the scope of eye care into the mainstream as an integral part of mainstream of health services. The landmark UN Resolution on Vision for Everyone in 2021 recognised that vision and eye health were not just health issues, but critical to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Since, the start of WHO’s Prevention of Blindness programme almost 50 years ago, we have achieved a lot: great progress in the elimination of trachoma and river blindness, reduction in the overall prevalence of vision impairment, better evidence generation at country-levels, the integration of eye health into health policies and mainstream health services in many countries, the development and launch of new technologies to identify, diagnose and treat different conditions and, crucially, improve access. But, of course, we face new challenges: an ageing population, conditions like Diabetic Retinopathy and glaucoma, and the growing public health crisis of myopia.
As we celebrate WHO’s 75th Birthday, we commit to continuing to work in partnership so that the more than a billion people who today do not have access to eye health services get the eye care they need. We know that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and will not be achieved without good quality eye care for everyone because, of course, Universal Health Coverage isn’t universal unless it includes eye health.
Image on top: This child is happy to receive his new glasses/Keith Kalu