A new PricewaterhouseCoopers report launched today showing the economic benefits of eliminating avoidable blindness in developing countries is proof that investing in sight is a smart use of Australia’s foreign aid budget.
The Investing in Vision report commissioned by The Fred Hollows Foundation and launched by Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Bob Carr, estimates for every dollar invested in preventing someone from going blind, four dollars are generated in economic benefits.
CEO of Vision 2020 Australia, Jennifer Gersbeck, said the report confirmed that foreign aid spent on eye health and vision care in Asia and the Pacific was cost effective and value for money.
“The ripple effect of restoring people’s sight in developing countries is enormous and an effective use of the aid dollar,” Ms Gersbeck said.
“We know that removing blinding cataracts or providing a pair of glasses can literally transform people’s lives as it enables them to work, care for their families and contribute to their communities.
“But the broader benefits of eliminating avoidable blindness have a long-term impact on a country’s economy and has the power to reduce poverty in our region,” Ms Gersbeck said.
Globally, 232.5 million people are blind or vision impaired. Some 90 per cent of these people live in developing countries, with two thirds living in Asia and the Pacific. With 80 per cent of blindness or vision loss preventable or treatable, there are many people who are needlessly blind or vision impaired.
“The good news is that eliminating avoidable blindness and vision loss is extremely cost effective,” she said.
Aid has been effective in improving the lives of people across the globe. For example, since 1990 we have seen the number of child deaths fall by more than 40 per cent, maternal deaths by nearly 50 per cent and the number of children who could not get an education has been cut by 42 per cent.
“In eye health the numbers point to a similar story. Globally, we have seen a sharp decline in the number of people who are blind or vision impaired.
“We have seen the prevalence of blindness in people aged 50 and over drop dramatically from 3 per cent to 1.9 per cent.
“This is truly remarkable considering population growth and the ageing population, and demonstrates the effectiveness of programs working to reduce avoidable blindness and vision impairment.”
“Australian NGOs have a proud history of contributing to these improvements in eye health in Asia and the Pacific.”
In the past three years alone, around 650,000 screenings have been carried out, 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 NGOs.
Australian eye health NGOs have long partnered with government on the development and implementation of programs to help regional countries identify their own health needs and address these within their own national context.
“The work being done by Australian NGOs to provide training to health professionals, the provision of equipment and building of infrastructure has gone a long way ensuring the long-term health needs of the region are met and managed by individual countries.”
“All Australians should be proud of the results that have been achieved with just 1.4 per cent of the Federal Budget being allocated to foreign aid.”
“In the face of domestic fiscal challenges, our commitment to our regional neighbours should not be ignored particularly when it’s an issue which can be solved in our lifetime,” she said.
“We need hard-headed, smart aid decisions that combat global poverty to give people living in developing countries the chance to achieve their dreams and aspirations.”
Ms Gersbeck also congratulated The Fred Hollows Foundation, the Brien Holden Vision Institute and Sight for All on Mr Carr’s announcement that they will share in $1 million to tackle avoidable blindness in Laos.