- Category: Global Eye Care
What is advocacy?
On World Sight Day in 2006 the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed for the first time to the global community that an estimated 153 million people were either blind or vision impaired due to uncorrected distance refractive error.1,2 Prior to this, avoidable blindness and vision impairment, mostly occurring in the developing world had been largely unrecognised.
The advocacy efforts of the WHO, International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), and international non-governmental development organisations, including the Brien Holden Institute Vision Foundation, were pivotal in raising awareness of this hidden burden amongst the eye care community and wider world. These groups took up the challenge to develop a coordinated global response to address this, resulting in the joint WHO and IAPB initiative VISION 2020: The Right to Sight, a global plan of action to eliminate avoidable blindness.
The Foundation continues its advocacy efforts as a fundamental part of our work to implement this global plan and build sustainable eye care systems in developing communities. These include:
- Raising awareness amongst government and health officials about the necessity for blindness prevention programs
- Ensuring our human resource development, service development, research and social enterprise activities fit in with national plans
- Building support of local health systems and education institutions for our programs
- Securing infrastructure support and facilities for eye care services to operate in
- Promoting the growth of optometry in countries through educational support and exchanges, conferences, interactions with professional bodies and support for emerging optometry associations
- Raising awareness of vision impairment in local communities and of the availability of eye care services
- Ensuring development of local leadership and ownership in eye care delivery and education
- Collaborating with other partners to promote the integration of comprehensive eye health strategies into the national health plans
We engage with these stakeholders as an integral part of our work to raise awareness of avoidable vision impairment and to ensure our programs are responsive to and are integrated with local health systems, are culturally appropriate and sustainable.
Advocacy at work
Being part of the broader development agenda is a logical fit for the Foundation and eye care programs in general. More recently we have intensified our advocacy efforts to highlight vision impairment as a development issue, not simply a health care problem. In 2010, we staged the 2nd World Congress on Refractive Error in Durban, South Africa to bring together non government organisations, researchers and industry from the eye care field, and other development organisations, and draw global attention to the link between vision impairment, blindness and poverty as well as its impact on economic development.
Through forums such as these and many other representations to governments, peak international health bodies, the development community, funders and the global community, we are working to create policy change and ensure that eye care delivery is integrated into development programs worldwide.
In South Africa the Foundation initiated the visionary Giving Sight to KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) program in 2007, with the target of reaching one million patients in the province which was achieved in 2011. Due to our advocacy efforts the project is being replicated in three other provinces of South Africa, and several other projects addressing refractive error have been initiated around the African continent.
Refractive error plans have now been included in the National Eye Care Strategic Plans of several countries in Africa. Progress has been made in several countries which previously did not recognise the optometry profession, who now have not only acknowledged the profession but have begun integration within their national health systems.
In 2010, we joined eight other Australian eye health and vision care organisations to form the VISION 2020 Australia Global Consortium to address eye care needs in Asia Pacific. Through these efforts the Australian Government recognised the importance of the problem, and in an unprecedented move for disabilities in the region, pledged $45 million for the first phase of its Avoidable Blindness Initiative, which is now implementing eye care programs in Vietnam, Cambodia, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Samoa. For more information on our work in these countries please visit Where We Work
The Foundation’s approach to creating long-term, sustainable solutions to global eye care needs is supported by a multifaceted strategy, underpinned by our four key pillars: human resource development, service development, research and social enterprise.
- Resnikoff S, Pascolini D, Mariotti SP, Pokharel GP, 'Global magnitude of visual impairment caused by uncorrected refractive errors in 2004', Bulletin of the World Health Organization, January 2008, 86(1).
- Further research has recently updated the figure to 158 million and revealed that there are now an estimated 544 million people with significant near visual impairment because they are without adequate correction for presbyopia.