Eye health critical to global health agenda: World Health Assembly

News and Press Release
Originally published

World leaders have committed to making eye health an integral part of the mainstream health agenda and set the agenda for eye health for the next decade.

The 73rd World Health Assembly (WHA) adopted a resolution for 'Integrated people-centred eye care, including preventable blindness and impaired vision' which was led by Australia and Indonesia and co-sponsored by 47 countries.

CEO of The Fred Hollows Foundation, Ian Wishart, said this was a critical milestone for the global eye health community and The Foundation congratulates the Australian Government for its global leadership in seeing it through.

"As the world is gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic, never before has the message of building strong and resilient health systems and achieving Universal Health Coverage been more important," Mr Wishart said.

"Now, more than ever, the passing of this resolution highlights the urgent need to address barriers in access to eye care, particularly for the poorest and most disadvantaged in our communities who are often left behind -- women and girls, people with disability and people living in hard to reach places.

"Today, world leaders have committed to integrating eye health into the mainstream health agenda and have recognised the importance eye health can play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

"The resolution redefines eye health as a genuine global health problem shifting the narrative of people affected from millions to billions and notes the situation is set to worsen, particularly in light of COVID-19, on current trends."

The Minister for Health, The Hon Greg Hunt, welcomed the adoption of the resolution, noting that it was an "important step in ensuring eye health is integrated in health systems as part of universal health coverage worldwide."

The Minister also acknowledged that the support of the resolution "sends a strong signal of worldwide interest in progressing these important public health issues. We now stand ready to work with the international community to take these commitments forward."

Minister of Health of the Republic of Indonesia, H.E. Ltg. (Ret.) Terawan Agus Putranto, MD, PhD said this sent a clear message: "We cannot continue to live in a world where one billion people are disadvantaged due to visual impairment or blindness. With this resolution the international community is saying loud and clear that we will not let our citizens be left behind because of lack of access to vision care."

The resolution, adopted at an abridged virtual sitting, commits Member States to implement the recommendations of the World Health Organization's (WHO) first 'World report on vision' released in October.

For the first time in history, the report showed that the issue of blindness and vision impairment was a true global population health problem, needing the world's urgent attention. It outlined that at least 2.2 billion people around the world are living with blindness or vision impairment and at least one billion people are living with a condition that could have been prevented or is yet to be addressed.

The resolution directs the WHO to provide additional guidance and to work with Member States to develop feasible global targets to address blindness and vision impairment by WHA 2021.

The resolution sets the global agenda for eye health for the decade to 2030. It commits Member States, including Australia to:

  • Make eye care an integral part of Universal Health Coverage, embedding eye health in mainstream health plans, strategies and budgets;
  • Implement 'integrated people-centred eye care' within health systems and across the full spectrum of services from health, prevention, treatment through to vision rehabilitation.

It directs the WHO to:

  • Provide guidance and technical support to Member States, including:

  • Guidance on evidence-based and cost-effective eye care interventions.

  • Deliver a research agenda for health systems and policy.
  • Implement technological innovations.
  • Improve data collection, monitoring and reporting.

The Fred Hollows Foundation is a leading international development organisation that has restored sight to more than 2.5 million people worldwide and supported programs to deliver almost 100 million doses of antibiotics for trachoma. The Foundation was established in Australia in 1992 and believes in a world where no person is needlessly blind or vision impaired.

The Foundation's role in the WHA resolution:

  • Since 2017 The Foundation has worked with an International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) coalition including CBM, Light for the World and Sightsavers to spearhead global advocacy efforts.
  • The Foundation headed lobbying efforts with the Australian Government to be the lead sponsor along with the Indonesian Government. Securing a well-respected and experienced Member State to lead the negotiation process was critical to achieving a robust and inclusive resolution.
  • To have the resolution put on the agenda The Foundation and the IAPB coalition secured cosponsors from Member States across all six WHO regions.

For more information or interviews please contact:

Esther Au, Communications and PR Manager

E: M: +61 423 375 562