The event was moderated by journalist and TV personality, Femi Oke and included keynote addresses from H.E. Volkan Bozkir, President of the UN General Assembly and Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF and responses from senior UN officials including Stewart Simonson Assistant-Director General of the WHO and Beate Andrees, Special Representative to the UN and Director of the International Labor Organization.
The very fact that the launch of these two publications was hosted at the United Nations and with its most senior leaders demonstrates the enormous progress that has been made in reframing eye health as a development issue. This is thanks to the inspired leadership of the Friends of Vision Co-Chairs and the tireless support of its Secretariat; The Fred Hollows Foundation Sightsavers; OneSight; VisionSpring; Vision Council of America and CBM.
The publication of the Lancet and its new evidence on the links between eye health and the Sustainable Development Goals will only bolster this work. This was recognised by the Executive Director of UNICEF who said together the Lancet and IAPB “has built a compelling case for global action on vision and that is what is important”.
The launch event was held as Member States consider for the first time a draft UN General Assembly resolution on vision. The resolution will explicitly recognize the important contribution eye health can make to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals; and motivate action by countries, the private sector, the UN, and its institutions.
During his keynote address H.E. Volkan Bozkir, expressed his unequivocal support for the resolution on vision, noting:
“Vision cuts across a plurality of the Sustainable Development Goals… The UN Friends of Vision for taking the lead on eye health issues within the United Nations. Trust that you have my complete support in your efforts to include vision in the up-and-coming discussions around universal healthcare, and in the draft resolution on eye health…It is time for concrete actions, solutions and partnerships to mobilize all necessary resources”.
There was also strong support from the World Health Organization, who have been an active member of the Friends of Vision. Assistant Director General, Stewart Simonson said “the WHO is pleased to see movement on a UN General Assembly Resolution related to vision health as it will elevate political interest and encourage greater co-ordination on vision with other global development priorities”.
More UN bodies are starting to take notice of the potential of good eye health. Beate Andrees, Director of the International Labor Organization spoke for the first time at a UN Friends of Vision event, noting that the reports “make a compelling case to focus on global eye health in the workplace”.
These moments must not be underestimated. They go a long way to galvanising support at the very highest levels of the UN system. Now its time to turn this support into action.
Key facts and figure on eye health and why it matters: https://www.iapb.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Eye-Health_Why-it-matters_24022021.pdf