The simple reality is that, as the world population grows and ages, we cannot afford to leave anyone behind when it comes to the provision of eye-care services.


Recently in Ghana, on an outreach clinic into local communities, with optometrists from the University in Kumasi, what really struck me was the dire need for services just a few miles from the town. There were more people than we could practically see and it was clear that visual impairment affects everyone in the community; from the schoolteacher to the pupil, to the farmer, the taxi driver, the kente cloth weaver, the market traders, even the local chief and politician. They all had vision problems and either needed glasses to read, or glasses for distance vision or some other treatment like cataract surgery that we could refer on. But what happens if services are not available? Most of the adults are the income earners for their families and the economy, and most of the children should be or are in school. No country can afford to leave so many behind. How many of us couldn’t survive, work, or get around without our contact lenses or glasses?


Globally an estimated 1.1 billion people worldwide have near vision impairment simply because they do not have a pair of glasses, with 89% of the people affected living in middle and low-income countries.


In the eye care sector, we have the solutions and strategies to work towards a world where every child and adult has the opportunity to have clear vision and ultimately a fair chance. What we need now is to mobilise political will, so the necessary resources are available to improve access to affordable eye care services and glasses worldwide.

 

We can all understand and are committed to the Sustainable Development Goals and their guiding principle, to leave no one behind. But the reality is that despite progress made, adults and children, especially women and girls are being left behind.  

 

Healthy vision really underpins achieving a good number of the goals; if you struggle to see, you struggle to learn and earn a living regardless of where you are in the world.   

 

For instance, we know that 90% of children with low vision in developing countries are deprived of education. [1] We need to ensure that these children are not left behind and can receive the same education as those in developed countries. Every child deserves the same chances in life.

 


Additionally, women and girls are less likely to access vision services. But if a girl does have her vision corrected she has a better chance of achieving more at school, and for each year she stays in school her income will rise by 10-20%.[2] She deserves to thrive, and have equal opportunities to do so.


The simple reality is that, as the world population grows and ages, we cannot afford to leave anyone behind when it comes to the provision of eye-care services. The impact uncorrected vision impairment has on not only individuals, but economies is profound. The global economy loses US$202 billion in productivity each year because of uncorrected vision impairment.[3]

 

This is astonishing because restoring someone’s sight is one of the most cost-effective health interventions to reduce poverty.[4]  For example, in our programmes, just £5 can pay for an eye test and a pair of glasses that can completely transform someone’s life.

 

Eye health has the potential to become one of the largest health interventions in modern history, but in order to achieve Universal Eye Care by 2020 we need to support strengthening the health system in many countries – through;

  1. Supporting National Strategies and Plans for eye health that include Optometry services, other eye care services and a commitment to the training of Eye Care Workers;

  2. Developing infrastructure and strengthening service provision such as those provided through Vision Centres offering eye examinations and dispensing glasses and removing barriers such as cost, for example considering glasses and other low vision devices as essential medical equipment, allowing them the same benefits as other medicines in terms of exemption from prohibitive import duty and inclusion on health insurance schemes. This will break down a major barrier to access for what is essentially a very low-cost treatment and really make the difference in many countries and to many people and

  3. Building the eye health workforce, the need to support the recruitment, training, deployment and retention of eye health workers is critical to delivering universal eye health.

Our political leaders carry significant weight, and have the influence help us make real progress for Universal Eye Care. Therefore, I ask you to join me in asking that our Heads of State, Governments, and High Representatives take meaningful action to support universal eye health coverage by 2020 – because we cannot afford to leave anyone behind.

 

By Nicola Chevis, CEO, Vision Aid Overseas

 

Vision Aid Overseas is proud to be a campaign partner in Our Children’s Vision. To learn more about Our Children’s Vision visit www.ourchildrensvision.org/.

[1] World Health Organization. (2007). Global initiative for the elimination of avoidable blindness. Action plan 2006-2011. http://www.who.int/blindness/Vision2020_report.pdf
[2] https://plan-international.org/girls-rights-and-gender-equality
[3] Smith TST, Frick KD, Holden BA, Fricke TR, Naidoo KS, ‘Potential lost productivity resulting from the global burden of uncorrected refractive error’ in Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 2009; 87.
[4] World Health Organization. (2007). Global initiative for the elimination of avoidable blindness. Action plan 2006-2011. http://www.who.int/blindness/Vision2020_report.pdf