Hyderabad, India, 17 September 2012: An estimated 80% of global blindness is preventable or treatable. So what’s preventing many of the 39 million people who can’t see from having their vision restored or vision loss prevented?
A lack of awareness and commitment among governments and health systems, according to eye care experts at the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) 9th General Assembly in Hyderabad, India, recently.
Delegates from 87 countries attending meeting reached agreement on the Hyderabad Declaration on Promoting Eye Health and Eliminating Avoidable Blindness and Visual Impairment, which identified a failure to recognise blindness as a significant health, social and economic issue, as a key reason why avoidable blindness and visual impairment has yet to be adequately addressed.
Incoming President and Chair of the IAPB and former Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance in the Australian Government, Mr Bob McMullan, who in that role mobilised $67 million for blindness prevention in the Australian Government’s Avoidable Blindness Initiative, said the declaration is about identifying a series of actions to more urgently tackle blindness and called on the eye care community to ensure eye health was a priority in the health agenda and especially acknowledged as a development issue, as reflected in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
“Eye health features in the lives of every individual and the economy of each country,” he observed.
According to former Indian President Dr Abdul Kalam, a 50% reduction in visual impairment and blindness by the year 2020 was a feasible objective, topping the targets of 14% and 20% reductions respectively, set out in the zero draft of the World Health Organization’s ‘Universal access to eye health: a global action plan, 2014-2019’. Delivering the keynote address at the opening of the conference, Dr Kalam said, “I am of the opinion that this is a very small target.”
With development of new technologies, a greater investment in infrastructure, and intensified advocacy efforts by social and government organisations, the 50% target could be achieved in the next eight years, he said. He also urged greater commit to research through population surveys every two years to better understand levels of vision in all countries.
The CEO of the IAPB, Mr Peter Ackland, threw down the challenge to the 1500 delegates and attending media to get the message out about the health care failure. Apart from the human cost he made the stunning announcement that blindness costs the global economy in the region of $1 trillion annually. Increased funding from the public and private sector would provide a net economic gain and address the problem of inadequate human resources for eye health and improve facilities at the primary health care level.
The declaration addressing this unnecessary tragedy was action-oriented he said. “What we want to do is define action needed by government, the private sector and the health sector.” He urged not just blindness prevention leaders to get the message out to the wider world but attending media as well.
Outgoing President of the IAPB, Christian Garms, key founder of the VISION 2020: The Right to Sight program of the IAPB and World Health Organization urged, “greater synergy and partnership from all stakeholders to achieve more effectiveness in advocacy and better integration of eye health objectives into mainstream health and development.”
In addition to the 39 million blind (with cataract being the number one cause) there are 123 million vision impaired due to uncorrected distance refractive error and a further 517 million vision impaired due to uncorrected near refractive error (presbyopia).
Indian leader in blindness prevention, Dr Gullapalli Rao, Chair of the LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad, said, “If we can tackle the problem of cataract and refractive error effectively we can eliminate around 65-70% of all eye problems.” In addition to securing the funding to develop the eye care services needed, a key hurdle was getting the services where they were needed. “We still don’t know how to reach all people that need an eye examination,” he said.
The Hyderabad Declaration builds on the momentum created by earlier agreements reached by the international eye care sector in 2007 (Durban Declaration on Refractive Error and Service Development) and 2010 (Durban Commitment 2010 – Vision Health and Development), which have sought to refine action plans to meet the objectives of VISION2020, which is to eliminate avoidable blindness and vision impairment globally by the year 2020.
Read more coverage of Dr Kalam’s keynote address in The Hindu.