It is not yet possible to see the end of the Covid-19 pandemic or to estimate its impact on global poverty. But sight restoration, while generating less attention, is an effective way to ease poverty around the world.
Ending avoidable blindness, including treating the cataracts and trachoma prevalent in low- and middle-income countries, allows a society to maximise economic opportunities. If more people are given access to affordable and high-quality eye care, then more people can contribute to economic growth.
An estimated 1.1 billion people live with vision impairment primarily because they have no access to eye-care services. About 90 per cent of the people affected live in low- and middle-income countries.
In July, the United Nations General Assembly adopted its first resolution on eye health after the championing of the UN Friends of Vision, a group of country representatives committed to elevating the issue. It means that countries are committed to ensuring the availability and accessibility of high-quality eye-health services to people living with preventable, treatable or manageable eye-health conditions.
The Fred Hollows Foundation welcomes the resolution and hopes it will create real opportunities for greater inclusion of eye health within the policies and programmes of UN bodies responsible for areas such as education, labour and women’s empowerment, and generate a revolution in financing and resourcing to scale up eye care for all.
Eye health is so intricately linked with who we are and how we interact with the world. It’s important to ensure that eye health is explicitly part of the broader development agenda as well as strengthened within the health system.
World Sight Day
falls on October 14 and this year the eye-health sector is urging people to get their eyes tested and be responsible for their eye health.
Yet because of the lack of resources in many low- and middle-income countries, there are no measures in place that allow people with vision impairment to participate in the community on an equal basis with others, whether socially or economically.
Governments must make significant investments in eye health as part of the post-Covid-19 economic revival plan. Institutional investors also have a critical role to play. Political will has to be generated at the highest levels to commit funding to eye health, shift public attitudes through education, and advocate for better policies, laws and practices.
By doing so, we are not only creating a people-centred eye-care plan for all, but also improving other social goals such as education, poverty alleviation and employment.
By Laura Lee, Chief Representative for Hong Kong and ASEAN, The Fred Hollows Foundation
The article was originally published in Letters, SCMP.