The Observatory

Eye health intervention is a savvy investment

Jodie Bell

For many in the developing world, blindness or vision impairment can mean decreased life expectancy and a life of poverty. Australia is perfectly positioned to help some of our closest neighbours reduce poverty through eye health interventions. In the lead up to the Federal Budget, Vision 2020 Australia is asking the Australian Government to promote economic growth in our region by investing in eye health and vision care.

Many Australians may not know that 90 per cent of people with vision impairment live in developing countries, and as 18 of Australia’s closest neighbours are developing countries, blindness and vision loss affects millions of people in our region.

People who are blind or vision impaired can be disadvantaged when it comes to finding work, attending school and providing for their families. Around 64 per cent of people who are blind or vision impaired are women, and women and girls also face extra challenges when they act as carers for vision impaired family members and don’t have the time or resources to attend school or work.

Amazingly, 80 per cent of vision loss is preventable or treatable, meaning there is a lot that can be done to address vision loss.

Eye health and vision care programs have been shown to provide great return on investment, with a $4 economic gain for every $1 invested in programs, so investment in eye health and vision care makes good economic sense. 

In a bid to make Australian Aid cheaper, faster and more effective, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Julie Bishop, recently launched InnovationXchange, a platform designed to promote innovation to find new ways to solve problems. The Australian Government states that it wants to see “economies in our region grow and jobs created that will lift people out of poverty”.

Interestingly, the Vision 2020 Australia Global Consortium has been working towards reducing poverty through building the capacity of local health workers rather than simply providing service delivery. This approach strengthens health systems, economies and works to eliminate avoidable and treatable vision loss and blindness. This is a prime example of how investing in eye health and vision care makes good economic sense and provides governments with more bang for their buck.

A collaboration of leading Australian eye health organisations and supported by Vision 2020 Australia, the Global Consortium is a platform that allows each organisation to work to their strengths, while complementing the strengths of the other organisations. The results from the Consortium program are encouraging. Even though the population in the Indo-Pacific region has been increasing there has been a significant reduction in blindness prevalence in the region. The 2010 Global Burden of Disease report claimed that between 1990 and 2010 there was a 43 per cent reduction in Southeast Asia and 38.5 per cent reduction in the Pacific.

A great example of the Consortium’s work is the East Asia Vision Program and the Vietnam Australia Vision Support Program, both of which sit under the Australian Government’s Avoidable blindness Initiative (ABI). As part of the Avoidable Blindness Initiative (2010-2014), the Global Consortium delivered a staggering amount of training and services in Cambodia, Timor-Leste and Vietnam.

  • 820,368 people were screened and/or treated for eye health conditions.
  • 16,414 individual training activities delivered to improve the skills of the eye health workforce in the region.
  • 11,988 training activities provided for primary health workers including village and commune health workers.

In the lead-up to the 2015-16 Federal Budget, Vision 2020 Australia is calling on the Australian Government to continue to fund the important work being done in our region to eliminate avoidable blindness and vision loss, and to support those with vision loss. A Federal Budget 2014-15 proposal was submitted to the Australian Government for consideration in November 2014. Ultimately this proposal sought to ‘fill the gaps’ by providing services in areas where there were significant shortfalls in essential eye health and vision care service delivery.

Due to further aid budget cuts being announced in December 2014, Vision 2020 Australia revised the original budget proposal. The new proposal focuses purely on building capacity and strengthening health systems in the region, providing a long-term solution for the provision of eye health and vision care services. 

Should the proposal be funded, the Vision 2020 Australia Global Consortium will continue to deliver innovative, cost-effective and evidence-based programs in our region and continue to reduce rates of blindness and vision impairment. This will ultimately improve the quality of life for tens of thousands of people, and lead to social and economic gains in the countries where we work and across the region.

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About the Author

Jodie Bell head shot

Jodie Bell

Jodie is Global Policy and Programs Coordinator at Vision 2020 Australia, joining the team in January 2015. Jodie’s passion for social justice has led to a varied career providing harm reduction services for injecting drug users in Melbourne, working with a research team on HIV prevention in Beijing, and providing care and support to asylum seekers in detention and community settings around Australia. Jodie has provided support to vulnerable people in complex circumstances, managed programs in community settings, and conducted research and project work to develop campaigns, programs and approaches which assist marginalised people to have a voice in society. Jodie holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honours in Criminology) as well as a Master of Development Studies from University of Melbourne. Read more by this author →

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