The Observatory

Global cause unites sector in elimination of avoidable blindness

Jennifer Gersbeck

Last week Vision 2020 Australia held its first Parliamentary Friends Group for Eye Health and Vision Care breakfast of the year. With a focus on global aid, it was fantastic to see such support from our members and government with a strong turnout of over 95 attendees.

Globally, 232.5 million people have vision impairment and 33.5 million people are blind. What is most saddening is that 80 per cent of blindness and vision impairment is avoidable or treatable, meaning that 186 million people are needlessly blind or vision impaired. As a sector this is something we are working to change.

During the event we announced the development of Vision 2020 Australia’s draft Global Strategy 2014-2019 with an initial regional focus on Asia and the Pacific. Brian Doolan, CEO of The Fred Hollows Foundation discussed developments internationally in eye health and vision care, including The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, global efforts to eliminate trachoma and the post 2015 Millennium Development Goals.

During the breakfast we were delighted to have Emeritus Professor Ron McCallum AO introduce the new Disability Inclusion in Eye Health Programs guide.  The guide is a valuable resource to assist all eye-health personnel to practise disability inclusion in their programs and is endorsed by 14 global eye health and blindness organisations – an impressive feat!Micheal Jeffery and Ron McCallum

Photograph of Michael Jeffery and Ron McCallum
Photographer Irene Dowdy

We heard from the Hon Richard Marles MP, the Hon Teresa Gambaro MP, and the Hon Barry Jones AO regarding developments in the sector. It was also an opportunity to welcome new faces including Major General Michael Jeffery, the Australian Representative and Executive Chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust.

Much has already been achieved by our members but as we move closer to the year 2020, the next stage of work towards the elimination of avoidable blindness must begin. The World Health Organisation’s Draft plan for the prevention of avoidable blindness and visual impairment 2014-2019, to be endorsed at the World Health Assembly in May will be used as a guide for Member States and international partners. In Australia we are embracing this plan and our members have been working collaboratively to develop a strategy to guide the programming, planning and advocacy work of agencies active in the region. The reason for a strong program focus in this part of the world is that 90 per cent of people with vision impairment live in developing countries and two thirds of these live in Asia and the Pacific. 

As I mentioned during the breakfast, Vision 2020 Australia’s global strategy will have three key objectives: evidence generated and used to advocate for increased political and financial commitment of national governments for eye health; national eye policies, plans and programs for eye health integrated into national health systems; and multi-sectoral engagement and effective partnerships for improved eye health strengthened.

 Strengthened engagement and partnerships will result in:

  • Trachoma eliminated
  • Vision impairment significantly reduced
  • Effective screening and treatment of eye complications from diabetes integrated into the broader health system
  • Vision and eye health screening integrated into school health programs; and
  • Increased participation of people who are blind or have vision impairment in all aspects of life.

We are continuing to work in partnership with the Australian Government to achieve our goal of eliminating avoidable blindness in the region, so it was great, as always, to see a large team of AusAID members at the breakfast including: Director General, Peter Baxter;   First Assistant Director General, James Gilling; Principal Sector Specialist, Benedict David; as well as The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust in Australia COO, Murray Proctor.    

 As a sector we are committed to moving forward and achieving our global goals. This event was a positive and timely reminder that much has been achieved, and much more will be achieved in the years to come as we work together strategically and effectively to eliminate avoidable blindness once and for all.

Jennifer Gersbeck

CEO Vision 2020 Australia

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About the Author

CEO Jennifer Gersbeck in a cafe

Jennifer Gersbeck

Jennifer Gersbeck is Director of Global Partnerships and Advocacy at The Fred Hollows Foundation, and previously CEO of Vision 2020 Australia. Jennifer has been involved in a wide range of social marketing campaigns aimed at raising awareness, changing behaviour and influencing key decision makers. Jennifer has qualifications in Political Science and Business Marketing, is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, and has worked extensively in the health and community services sector. Read more by this author →

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