Saving sight is bang for buck when it comes to Australian foreign aid


Vision 2020 Australia is urging the federal government to stick to its foreign aid promises amid speculation of funding cuts in next week’s federal budget.

Jennifer Gersbeck, CEO of Vision 2020 Australia, said foreign aid spent on eye health in the Asia Pacific was cost effective and value for money and should not be cut at the expense of a national surplus.

“Poverty in the Asia Pacific is an enormous problem but simple, cost effective, eye health interventions are playing a dramatic role in helping to solve this problem,” Ms Gersbeck said. 

Globally, around 285 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 the Asia Pacific. What is worse, up to 60 per cent of children in low income countries die within two years of becoming blind.

“We know that around 80 per cent of blindness and vision loss is preventable and treatable which means there is an extraordinary number of people who are needlessly blind facing extreme poverty,” she said.

“Cost-effective treatments such as cataract surgery or the provision of glasses can be the difference between a life of poverty and a fulfilling, healthy existence.”

“Recent statistics showed an eye examination and the provision of glasses to someone in the Asia Pacific can cost as little as $10,” Ms Gersbeck said. * “Similarly, sight-restoring cataract operations can be performed for a little as $25 – the price of a book.”

In the past year alone, the Vision 2020 Australia Global Consortium (a partnership of nine Australian eye care organisations) has restored sight by providing glasses to thousands of people, performed hundreds of thousands of operations so that adults and children are no longer blind, and enhanced the capacity of many countries to look after their own health needs in years to come.

Latest figures show that nearly 211,200 surgeries and eye screenings were performed in Vietnam alone. An additional 124,000 were conducted in Cambodia, with 27,855 of these screenings conducted on school-aged children.

In Timor Leste, surgery to remove cataracts increased by 75 per cent from 800 in 2010 to 1400 in 2011. And in Samoa, 2015 students were screened across 27 schools, with 693 students referred for treatment.

Ms Gersbeck said extensive training of health professionals across the region was taking place, as well as vision screening training for primary and secondary school teachers in Cambodia. “These interventions are going a long way to ensuring countries in the Asia Pacific can sustain themselves well into the future.”

Ms Gersbeck said hospitals and vision care centres have also been constructed in the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam and Cambodia, and diagnostic and surgical equipment provided across the region to ensure that eye health professionals have the equipment they need to assess and treat people.

Australiahas a long history of delivering effective eye health programs in the Asia Pacific. This knowledge is shared through the Global Consortium and the unique partnership approach enhances collaboration, understanding, and skill sharing and removes duplication ensuring efforts are cost effective and efficient.   

“We have come a long way in reducing the numbers of people who are blind or vision impaired but there is still a long way to go,” she said.

“We have a moral obligation to look after those who are worse off than us and come budget night we hope to see the government do the right thing.”

“The bipartisan commitment to increase Australia’s development assistance spend to almost $4.8 billion in 2012-13 was a step in the direction,” she said. “But this increase of our GNI to 0.35 per cent is still the equivalent to Australians contributing around $3.30 a week – or less than the price of a cup of coffee – to help some of the poorest people in the world.”

“Australia has an economy which is envied by the rest of the world but among the top 23 richest countries we rank only thirteenth when aid is measured as a percentage of our income.”

“Slowing foreign aid now is not only damaging to work that is being undertaken in the Asia Pacific but opens the doors for potential cuts in the future.”

“Our commitment to foreign aid should not be downgraded at the expense of those who need it most when there are cost-effective solutions in place that can transform the lives of millions.”


About Vision 2020 Australia Global Consortium

Australian NGOs have a long history of tackling avoidable blindness in developing countries. In 2007, recognising this expertise and the importance of eliminating avoidable blindness, a $45 million Avoidable Blindness Initiative (ABI) was announced to tackle blindness and vision impairment in the Asia Pacific.

Since then, Vision 2020 Australia’s Global Consortium, comprised of nine leading eye health agencies, has been launched, and a partnerships framework has been developed with AusAID to ensure effective implementation of Avoidable Blindness Initiative activities.

With funding from the ABI, 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 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.

Eighty per cent of all blindness is preventable and treatable, and research has shown that interventions to improve eye health are essential in reducing poverty and achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

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.

About Vision 2020 Australia

V2020A is the umbrella organisation for the eye health and vision care sector in 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.

Media Contact

Louise Rudzki, Vision 2020 Australia, (03) 9656 2054, + 61 414 784 359,