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Australian blind paralympic medallist throws a light on blindness in the Asia Pacific

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Vision impaired paralympian Jessica Gallagher who skied her way to a bronze medal in the 2010 Winter Paralympics has turned her attention to another goal.

This time the 25-year-old who is currently training in track and field for the London 2012 Paralympics is helping raise awareness of the work that is being done in the Asia Pacific to eliminate blindness of some of our poorest neighbours.

Jessica has been appointed Vision 2020 Australia’s first Global Ambassador for Australia’s efforts to overcome avoidable blindness and vision impairment. Her role will include turning the spotlight on the difference Australian aid and work is having and raising the awareness of the link between blindness and poverty.

“Through my sporting opportunities I get to meet so many outstanding Australians who are achieving amazing things all over the world. But the work that some Australians are doing quietly behind the scenes in many Asia Pacific countries to make a difference to individual lives of people who are blind or vision impaired, is truly inspirational,” Jessica said.

The osteopath who is hoping to win gold at the London Paralympic Games said despite losing her own sight she realises how lucky she is to live in Australia and have access to such good medical and disability services.

“I am thrilled to support the efforts of Australian agencies working in partnership to improve the vision of millions of people in the region who are not so lucky,” she said.

“Obviously, losing my own sight means that this is an issue that is close to my heart and I am happy to be able to give something back.”

No stranger to travelling internationally, Jessica spends much of her time overseas either training on the ski fields or competing.

Jessica will travel to the Asia Pacific later this year to meet Australians who are working to restore sight and improve facilities and services, as well as some of the people whose lives have been impacted by vision loss and blindness.

Jessica was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition Cone Dystrophy at the age of 17, and has always been active in sport. She played netball at a competitive level before her eyesight deteriorated.

After only being on skis for just 150 days, Jessica competed in the slalom skiing event with her guide Eric Bickerton at the Vancouver Paralympic Games in 2010 where she made history as the first Australian woman to ever win a medal at a winter games.

Now Jessica stands to make history again as the first Australian paralympic athlete to win medals at both the summer and winter games if she comes away with a place in London. She will be competing in javelin and long jump.

Keep up with her sporting and ambassadorial activities via her blog at http://jessgallagher.blogspot.com and via Twitter @JessGallagher86

ENDS

About Vision 2020 Australia

As the peak body for the eye health and vision care sector, Vision 2020 Australia aims to eliminate avoidable blindness by the year 2020. Globally, approximately 285 million people are blind or vision impaired. Some 90 per cent of the world’s blindness exists in developing countries and is said to be both a cause and a consequence of poverty.

In Australia, almost 575,000 people are blind or vision impaired. As Australia’s population ages, this figure is predicted to rise to almost 801,000 by 2020.

Vision loss has significant social and economic costs and greatly impacts independence and quality of life.

About Vision 2020 Australia Global Consortium

In partnership with AusAID, Vision 2020 Australia's Global Consortium is working to eliminate avoidable blindness in the Asia Pacific region. The Global Consortium consists of Vision 2020 Australia and nine leading agencies from across the sector.

With funding from AusAID's $45 million Avoidable Blindness Initiative, the Global Consortium is tackling avoidable blindness on a number of fronts, including training eye nurses and eye doctors, developing systems to collect and utilise eye health data, strengthening eye health infrastructure (construction, renovation and provision of equipment), supporting the government's blindness prevention committee, and raising awareness of eye health and available services.

Vision impairment is both a cause and a consequence of poverty, and tackling avoidable blindness enables people to return to work and contribute to their families and communities. For example, approximately 90 per cent of vision impaired children in the Asia Pacific are deprived of the opportunity to attend school. Efforts to eliminate childhood vision impairment are central to achieving the second Millennium Development Goal - achieving universal primary education.

The Global Consortium is working in seven countries across the Asia Pacific to eliminate avoidable blindness. Since its implementation in 2010, the Consortium has seen the lives of thousands transformed, particularly in Cambodia and Vietnam where the majority of Consortium funds have been allocated.

Media Contact

Louise Rudzki, Vision 2020 Australia, (03) 9656 2020, +61 414 784 359, lrudzki@vision2020australia.org.au

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