India is a myriad of colour and rhythm; everyday life moves at a mesmerising pace yet somehow there is a synchronicity. This velocity seems to resonate with the Brien Holden Vision Institute, which recently launched its rebrand in Hyderabad, India at the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) 9th General Assembly (9GA).
India was the first country to launch its National Program for Control of Blindness in the mid-1970s and continues to have a strong governmental commitment to the nation’s eye health need. Hyderabad is located in the state of Andhra Pradesh, which was the first state in the world to launch a VISION 2020 program. These historical facts made Hyderabad an ideal location for 9GA, a true manifestation of its subtitle: Eye Health: Everyone’s Business, attracting 1500 delegates from more than 80 countries. The assembly provided a forum for future planning and to reach agreement on identifying further priorities towards the elimination of avoidable blindness and vision impairment.
Christian Gams, President and Chairman of the Board of IAPB, said in his welcome address that eye care was finding its place, ‘slowly but resolutely’ in the wider development agenda. “However, the issues we face are complex and crop up in a variety of socio-economic contexts,” he said. “The challenges we tackle require ingenuity and a multidisciplinary approach.” Success, he said, depended on governments, development agencies, professional groups, non-governmental organisations and the private sector working together towards the common goals of VISION 2020.
“Nobody should go blind when blindness could be avoided, and blindness prevention should be an integrated part of health care services in all countries,” he added. “These are ambitious goals – tackling and overcoming these challenges is everyone’s business.”
Hurtling toward 2020 and beyond, the Brien Holden Vision Institute focus is also on equity in eye care access worldwide. With the International Centre for Eyecare Education (ICEE) renamed the Public Health Division of the Institute, the two are together aiming to achieve much more in the pursuit of one bold purpose – vision for everyone... everywhere.
Professor Kovin Naidoo, Global Programs Director, Public Health Division of the Institute, expressed his support for the new alignment. “I see our new purpose as a very positive step forward,” he said. “The Institute is one of the largest and most successful non-profit social enterprises in the history of global eye care. Together we offer a practical fusion of science with commercialisation, education and global eye care development.”
“Where you are generating social enterprises you are generating income and that income can be used to provide for underserved communities. This has been a global trend that the International Agency for Prevention of Blindness has supported in particular, and we at the Institute have similar overarching strategies we have been supporting for more than three decades,” said Naidoo.
Professor Brien Holden, CEO of the Institute, believes the alignment will offer greater capacity for accessing the global solutions required. “We believe the Institute is an environment that promotes innovation and collaboration to foster genuine outcomes, and while we acknowledge real world challenges are present, we prefer to see them as opportunities rather than barriers. We know the solutions are there and in the long term we are seeing progress but I think the biggest issue we see is the question of how do we upscale to fit the need if we don’t broaden our scope and forge ahead together?” said Holden.
“Research in the late 1990s revealed that hundreds of millions of people were unnecessarily vision impaired or blind because they didn’t have access to an eye examination and a pair of glasses,” he added. “Sadly, more than a decade later and thanks to more research, we know that number is in excess of 640 million people – 123 million with distance vision impairment and 517 million with near vision impairment.”
“We also know that the cost to the global economy in lost productivity for distance vision alone, is a staggering I$269 billion* each year. This does not include the cost of vision loss related to uncorrected near vision impairment, which affects 517 million people,”he said.
The alliance and shared belief has a long and much celebrated history. In 2010, Holden and Naidoo were jointly recognised globally for their visionary zeal for social entrepreneurship in the eye care industry by being awarded the Schwab Social Entrepreneur Award for Africa 2010, at the regional World Economic Forum in Tanzania.
“We believe providing eye care for such an immense number of people requires an urgent and massive response. We know 75% of the population in developing countries is surviving on less than $2 a day and our goal is to target the poorest individuals in our global population.”
“We know the link between blindness, vision impairment and poverty is undisputable. Together as one organisation, we believe if we harness our efforts, broaden our scope and deepen our established strategies, we can achieve much more. We believe that is the right of everyone, everywhere to have the best possible vision, and together we will work towards achieving that goal,” said Naidoo.
*I The international dollar (I) is a hypothetical unit of currency with the same purchasing power that the U.S. dollar has in the United States at a given point in time. It shows how much a local currency unit is worth within the country's borders. Conversions to international dollars are calculated using purchasing power parities (PPP). If all the dollars were to be spent in the USA, then I$1 = 1USD.