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Peak body welcomes $39 million to tackle avoidable blindness in Asia and the Pacific

MEDIA RELEASE

Vision 2020 Australia has welcomed the Australian Government’s commitment of $39 million in today’s budget to tackle avoidable blindness in Asia and the Pacific.

Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bob Carr, said the new initiative would focus on preventing avoidable blindness and restoring sight to thousands of people in the region over the next four years.

Vision 2020 Australia CEO Jennifer Gersbeck said she was pleased that the Australian Government had allocated funding to address this important issue.

Ms Gersbeck said the commitment, together with the work already underway in the region by Australian NGOs and AusAID, would help restore sight and transform the lives of some of Australia’s most vulnerable neighbours.

“We know cost-effective eye health treatments can be the difference between a life of poverty and a fulfilling, healthy existence,” Ms Gersbeck said.

“It is good to know that the impact that preventing blindness has on reducing poverty has been recognised by the Australian Government.”

Globally, around 232.5 million people are blind or vision impaired. Some 90 per cent of these people live in developing countries and around half of all blindness occurs in Asia and the Pacific. What is worse, up to 60 per cent of children in low income countries die within two years of becoming blind.

“The good news is that 80 per cent of blindness and vision loss is preventable and treatable and today’s commitment will help an extraordinary number of people who are needlessly blind and facing extreme poverty,” Ms Gersbeck said.

But Ms Gersbeck said the Australian Government’s decision to push back aid spending for another year was deeply disappointing.

“Failing to honour its promise for the second year to increase foreign aid funding to 0.5 per cent of GNI by 2016-17 was a worrying trend.”

Ms Gersbeck said as one of the richest countries in the world, Australia had a moral obligation to help those living in the region who were less fortunate.

“We urge the Australian Government to reconsider, and call on the Federal Coalition to stay firm on their promises to the world’s poorest people in their Budget Response.”

ENDS

About Vision 2020 Australia

Established in October 2000, Vision 2020 Australia is part of VISION 2020: The Right to Sight, a global initiative of the World Health Organisation and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness.

Vision 2020 Australia represents over 60 member organisations involved in: local and global eye care; health promotion; low vision support; vision rehabilitation; eye research; professional assistance and community support.

As part of its work, Vision 2020 Australia set up a Global Consortium — a partnership of eight leading eye health organisations - to help eliminate avoidable blindness in Asia and the Pacific.

In the past three years alone, over 123,000 people have received sight-restoring eye surgeries and 21,300 pairs of spectacles have been fitted as part of a collaborative consortium approach by leading Australian eye health and vision care Non Government Organisations.

Media Contact

Louise Rudzki, Vision 2020 Australia, (03) 9656 2020, 0414 784 359, lrudzki@vision2020australia.org.au

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