2020 has been an extraordinarily challenging year. When we were last all together at the Council of Members meeting in Tanzania, no one could have foreseen the 12 months that lay ahead. Now, the world is nearing the end of one of the most tumultuous years on record. Yet the international battles against COVID-19 and racial inequality are only part of 2020’s narrative. In spite of these challenges, the eye health sector has seen change delivered, progress made and milestones achieved of which we can all be proud.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected members and the people we serve everywhere. In response, we formed the COVID-19 taskforce in April, developing a set of messages that the sector could use whilst advocating for eye health during the pandemic. Focusing on technology, service delivery, advocacy and communities & patients, the taskforce has developed advocacy messages, guiding principles and a resource repository on delivering services in the context of the pandemic. The movement for racial equality and the Black Lives Matter campaign gained urgent momentum this year. The protests sweeping the world have brought the reality of racial injustice home to so many. Justice and equality lie at the heart of what we do and we will continue to respect and encourage diversity and inclusivity at every level. The hurdles faced this year have shown the resilience, tenacity and willingness of the sector to adapt and to listen. Eye health organisations around the world have done extraordinary work to continue to provide eye care and support the fight against COVID-19 in the most difficult of circumstances.
Despite these challenges, we have collectively achieved so much:
- In partnership with our members, we lobbied successfully for a World Health Assembly Resolution on implementing Integrated People Centred Eye Care, making eye health an integral part of Universal Health Coverage. We are now working with WHO towards a second World Health Assembly Resolution next year to set global targets for eye health.
- Our advocacy at the United Nations with the Friends of Vision group continues to move on apace. New Ambassador co-chairs from Bangladesh and Ireland have joined ranks with Ambassador Aubrey Webson from Antigua and Barbuda to lead the Friends of Vision group. They are now pushing for the first ever UN General Assembly Resolution on vision. It would be a landmark resolution, placing the issue of eye health at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
- We launched the new Eye Health Heroes programme, supported by Allergan. In October, we celebrated the achievements of over 50 Eye Health Heroes from across every region at our first virtual awards ceremony. These inspiring young heroes will now embark on a year-long programme that will offer them the opportunity to connect with key sector leaders whilst developing new skills.
- World Sight Day this year was the best yet. 2020 year’s theme of ‘Hope in Sight’ reflected the importance of the sector being optimistic for the future and showed the opportunity that good eye care can bring people. It was a real honour to demonstrate the importance of this optimism and opportunity during our call with Her Majesty the Queen, Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex and three inspiring Eye Health Heroes, all working on the ground to deliver eye care within their countries. The call helped raise the profile of World Sight Day, providing a great foundation for developing public-awareness of the day in years to come.
- We have run a series of webinars and interviews to provide information and support to our members during the pandemic. We also published the second edition of the Vision Atlas – the authoritative source for the latest data and evidence in global eye health and launched a new website. The Vision Atlas provides a wealth of accessible data and information, including the newly released Vision Loss Expert Group papers and the final update of the Global Action Plan indicators.
Lots is changing at the IAPB too. Sadly, both VISION 2020 and the Seeing is Believing Programme are coming to a close. I want, in particular, to thank Standard Chartered Bank for their partnership and support throughout this initiative and the Seeing is Believing team, Sally Crook, Sarah Chemonges, Susan Evans and Niamh Browne for all their working in making SiB such a success. We look forward to celebrating the hard work of so many at the virtual closing event on 1st December. We have been delighted to welcome two new Patrons in 2020, Cooper Vision and Roche, joining Allergan, Bayer, Novartis and Standard Chartered Bank.
Looking ahead to 2021, I am hopeful and excited. Not only do we have a possible landmark resolution at the United Nations on the cards, but we will also see the publication of the Lancet Global Commission which will be jointly and publicly launched with the Vision Atlas. On top of that, on 4 January 2021, Clearly, the charity founded in 2016 by James Chen to raise the profile of vision among world leaders, will merge into IAPB. This provides us with a unique and exciting opportunity to boost our communications globally and look forward to an even bigger and better World Sight Day in October. But most excitingly, we are developing a brand-new initiative for the next decade to succeed VISION 2020. This initiative will respond to current and emerging challenges facing the sector building on the landmark successes of the past two decades. We want to produce an ambitious plan to drive collective action by the sector and encourage governments and the public to get on board too. If you’re interested in being a part of the consultation process for this, please sign up for a consultation session.
In October 2021, a new IAPB President and Board of Trustees will take office. After an extensive search process, the Presidential Nominations Committee identified Caroline Casey, Founder of the Valuable 500, as their preferred candidate and at its meeting in October, the IAPB Board of Trustees approved Caroline as their nomination for IAPB President. Elections for the Board will take place early next year.
Finally, I personally want to say thank you to all of our members for your exceptional work and for continuing to be a part of this global alliance that strives to make real change. As we emerge from the pandemic, we need to ensure that no one is left behind in our effort to achieve universal eye health.
I wish you and your loved ones the very best for this season and the New Year. I look forward to working with you in 2021.