By Peter Ackland  Chief Executive, International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB)

World Sight Day (WSD) enjoyed keen participation in more than 50 countries worldwide, last year enjoying heightened political engagement, from MPs and ministers receiving eye tests in Australia, to major government spending commitments in Zambia! In Latin and Central America I understand 19 countries reported a wide range of eye catchingevents.Last year’s WSD theme – Gender & Eye Health: equal access to care – lent itself to effective advocacy, and that was certainly the case in the United States, which saw the first eye health briefing on Capitol Hill take place under the auspices of VISION 2020 USA – the new coalition of 36 US-based NGOs, working together to eliminate avoidable blindness at home and abroad. The briefing was attended by US Congressmen, as well as representatives from numerous development and government agencies.

Approximately two-thirds of blind people worldwide are women and girls, yet in many developing countries men are twice as likely to access eye care services. These data were taken up enthusiastically by the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean (EMR), which hosted a high-profile event in Alexandria, Egypt, with participants from the Egyptian Ministry of Health, IAPB EMRO, IMPACT/EMR, local NGOs, Lions and Rotary Clubs’ international foundations, Chamber of Commerce, professional bodies, local and international NGOs, with considerable local and international media coverage. Speakers encouraged participants to continue to work towards gender equity in the use of eye health services.

Findings by the International Centre for Eyecare Education, indicate that its services in Durban are actually more frequently accessed by women, who constitute 70% of patients. For that reason, men were the targets of WSD09 publicity efforts there, which included the spectacular ‘March for Sight’ down the city’s main street, which was closed for the occasion. The march culminated at the City Hall, with speeches and a public eye screening, directly benefiting close to 400 citizens, and raising awareness among many more, through comprehensive TV, newspaper and radio coverage.

These are just a few examples from the many World Sight Day events around the globe last year. Over the years World Sight Day has become the cornerstone of raising awareness of blindness and visual impairment amongst both the general public and key decision makers in government. It is one part of VISION 2020’s advocacy campaign – indeed it has been a good year for our advocacy work globally. In May the World Health Assembly passed the WHO Action Plan for the Prevention of Blindness and visual impairment. In September the PAHO regional committee passed its own regional plan to eliminate avoidable blindness. Within the last few days agreement has been reached with the Australian government about how the first $40m of its grant under the Avoidable Blindness Initiative will spent – eventually this programme will provide some $500m for VISION 2020 programmes in the Pacific region. Securing this commitment was a fantastic effort by our colleagues and IAPB members in Australia. How good would it be if some of the other big donor agencies were to emulate the Australian government’s contribution in other parts of the world. National government’s are also becoming aware of their own obligations and the Chinese government recently pledged more than $100m to support cataract surgery for poorer communities.

Advocacy will be at the heart of IAPB’s work over the next few years. The intention is to get greater resources allocated to VISION 2020 programmes and national eye health plans. We have the plans – now let’s convince our politicians and policy makers to get them implemented!


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