Programs of the Vision 2020 Australia Global Consortium are having a profound impact on the lives of people living in Asia and the Pacific. Through extensive planning and collaborative program implementation, Consortium programs are reducing levels of blindness, building local capacity, strengthening infrastructure, and encouraging local buy-in to ensure all efforts are sustainable for years to come. Furthermore, programs are generating good will and partnership among the Government and people of Australia, and recipient countries.
The results from the Vision 2020 Australia Global Consortium Avoidable Blindness Initiative Phase 1 Completion Report demonstrate this well. From 2010-2012 inclusive:
- 772,182 people were screened or examined for eye health conditions
- 419,389 people received eye health care treatment
- 86 new eye health care centres are providing integrated eye health care services
- 48 new eye care services are using referral pathways to disability services
- 49 new eye health care service buildings have been constructed or renovated
- 14,147 individuals received training
- 24 new commitments of policy support shown by partner governments
- 12 new commitments of funding by partner governments at an AUD equivalent of $1.54 million.
Globally, the World Health Organisation estimates that 232.5 million people are blind or vision impaired1, an unacceptable figure given that 80 per cent of all blindness and vision impairment is preventable or treatable. But what is exciting is that through interventions such as the programs of the Global Consortium, a difference is being made globally. For example, the global prevalence of blindness, from all causes not just avoidable, in those over 50 years of age, has dropped from 3 per cent in 1990 to 1.9 per cent in 20102.
It is important to recognise the multi-layered effects that aid funded eye health and vision care programs are having in the region, particularly at a time when the foreign aid budget is often the subject of debate, to refocus discussions and assess the positive impacts of such programs. Continued funding for initiatives to address avoidable blindness and vision impairment in our region will strengthen health systems and health indicators and have an immediate impact to further reduce the number of needlessly blind people. Australia’s eighteen closest neighbours are developing countries, and with 90 per cent of people with vision impairment living in developing countries, the challenge is large and is very close to home. However, Australia is well placed to help eliminate avoidable blindness and vision impairment and provide inclusive development for those whose vision impairment is untreatable.
Australia is internationally recognised for playing a leading development role in our region, where two-thirds of the world’s poor— approximately 800 million people—reside, yet receive less than one third of global aid. Eliminating avoidable blindness and vision loss is an effective means of creating stronger economies and communities in the region, and is an area where Australia can add value and make a proven return on investment. Research has shown that interventions to improve eye health in developing countries are among the most cost effective public health programs available3, and return $4 for every $1 invested4.
Aside from its cost effectiveness, reducing blindness and vision impairment also has a crucial role to play in reducing poverty and can have a huge impact on communities and on the overall effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Eye health and vision care programs can be effectively delivered by linking in with the broader non-communicable diseases, education, water and sanitation and health frameworks, and can effectively incorporate and address cross-cutting issues such as gender. Furthermore, funding to eye health and vision care programs will also help to support those whose vision cannot be restored by intervention, by providing access and support to wider opportunities in rehabilitation, education, improved livelihood and employment.
Ultimately, the results of the Vision 2020 Australia Global Consortium Completion Report can speak for themselves, but what is sometimes overlooked in the numbers is the strong support our agencies enjoy from the Australian community, and the longstanding relationships they have with people and communities on the ground in developing countries. Consortium programs are effective and reach people in communities and in locations that governments and other aid actors simply cannot, and form the basis for inter-governmental relationships founded in trust and understanding.
Blindness prevention programs and disability inclusive development have become integral to Australia’s aid program and are having a profound impact on people’s lives across Asia and the Pacific. The 3 December announcement made by the Australian Government to commit to a new disability development policy from 2013 is encouraging and welcomed by the sector, and it is hoped that blindness prevention will also continue to feature in Australia’s aid and development program over the coming years.
1. World Health Organisation, the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010, 2012.
2. Gretchen A Stevens, Richard A White, Seth R Flaxman, Holly Price, Jost B. Jonas, Jill Keeffe, Janet Leasher, Kovin Naidoo, Konrad Pesudovs, Serge Resnikoff, Hugh Taylor, Rupert R A Bourne, Global Prevalence of Vision Impairment and Blindness: Magnitude and Temporal Trends, 1990-2010, (yet to be published) p5.
3. Marseille E, ‘Cost effectiveness of cataract surgery in Nepal’, Bulletin of the World Health Organisation, 74 (1996), 319-324.
4. Price WaterhouseCoopers, Investing in Vision – Comparing the costs and benefits of eliminating avoidable blindness and vision impairment, 2013 p4.