UN FRIENDS OF VISION

Image from UN Friends of Vision Credit Chandra Glick

The battle to persuade world governments to take notice of the crisis of poor vision has shown its first signs of success this year.

After a campaign by Clearly, the organisation I founded three years ago, and other like-minded bodies, the 53 Commonwealth heads of government at their meeting in April agreed ‘action towards achieving access to quality eye care for all.’

Having spent so long talking about the 2.5 billion of our fellow citizens who cannot see clearly as they have had no access to eye tests and glasses, this was music to my ears and so many of my friends in the campaign.

The Commonwealth summit was indeed the first international body to acknowledge the scale of this problem. So next, we said, let’s go for the United Nations.

And so, in October we were delighted that Ambassador Aubrey Webson, Permanent Representative of Antigua and Barbuda to the United Nations, convened the first meeting of the UN Friends of Vision group. This marked another major milestone in our mission to stamp this issue on the conscience of the world.

Representatives of 10 countries from every continent attended. Alongside Antigua and Barbuda, Ambassadors and senior diplomats from Bangladesh, Barbados, Botswana, Dominica, Grenada, Rwanda, St Kitts & Nevis, Surinam, and the UK all attended.

It was a most encouraging start, with every sign that the group will swiftly expand in future.

And when you think about it there should be no surprise in that. In 2015 the UN set 17 ambitious sustainable development goals which, if they ever come close to being achieved, will make the world a much better place.

But the UN will be asking itself how its key goals –quality education, good health, decent work, gender inequality and so on– can ever be attained if a third of the world cannot see properly.

I spoke about that as did several others, including Peter Holland, chief executive of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness. Peter also discussed the World Health Organisation’s forthcoming ‘World Report on Vision’ which will provide a practical toolkit for countries committed to providing vision for everyone. So now we have the why and the how.

Ambassador Webson, we were delighted to see, was a highly engaged chairman who wants to use the group to educate countries on the links between vision and the SDGs and to drive the integration of primary eye-care into universal health care, a key UN theme for 2019, as we travel the road towards ‘quality eye-care for all.’

Dr Agnes Binagwaho, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Global Health Equity and former Minister of Health in Rwanda, excited the group as she explained how with determination and goodwill it has been possible to deliver primary eye care for all in Rwanda.

Charities, NGOs, business leaders, philanthropists and the experts from the eye care world are engaging in the international fight for good vision. But governments must all come on board too. It looks like the message is getting home at last; but we cannot afford to let up.