Vision 2020 Australia urges Government not to lose focus on aid commitment

Vision 2020 Australia is urging the Australian Government to stay focussed on finishing the job of eliminating avoidable blindness in the region, in light of recent cuts and potential further slashing of aid in the upcoming Federal Budget.

Australian NGOs, with leadership from the Australian Government, have been instrumental in restoring the sight of hundreds of thousands of Australia’s closest neighbours and any further cuts to the aid budget would now be shortsighted, winding back great progress.

Interventions to improve or restore sight are excellent value, returning $4 for every $1 invested. Through the support of effective programs, people with unavoidable vision loss, can become, and remain, independent and engaged in their communities.

Australia is a great leader with a wealth of experience and knowledge in eye health and vision care and a continued concerted effort offers the chance to drastically reduce avoidable blindness and vision loss in our region by 2020 and ensure our neighbours are afforded the greatest opportunity for growth.

We have come a long way in reducing avoidable blindness and vision loss and local capacity is stronger than ever before, but we must remain focussed as we head towards the finish line and ensure efforts are not undone.

Since 2010, the Vision 2020 Australia Global Consortium, which is made up of six Australian eye health organisations, has screened or treated more than 820,000 people in the region, making significant inroads to reducing avoidable blindness and vision loss.

We know successful elimination of avoidable blindness and vision loss also relies on countries taking charge of their own eye health needs which is why Australia has also delivered over 16,414 individual training activities to improve the skills of the eye health workforce and training to 11,988 primary health workers. Activity is also underway to work with local in-country governments to improve health systems to make eye health a priority.

The sobering reality is the recent aid cuts of up to 40 per cent are already having a significant impact on the delivery of eye health and vision care programs across the region and the world. Some of these impacts include:

In 2015-16, following 20 per cent cuts to the aid budget, the Brien Holden Vision Institute will not be able to deliver critically needed eye care to over 150,000 people. Cuts to the Institute’s programs in Pakistan, Latin America, West Africa, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Cambodia will decrease capacity to support school eye health programs, deliver education, undertake research and reduce development and delivery of low vision services.

The Fred Hollows Foundation will need to cut vital activities from programs in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Laos, Palestinian Territories, Philippines and Vietnam. This will eliminate the training of 25 surgeons and support staff, training for 4,000 health workers, upgrade and building of two medical facilities and 18,000 operations and treatments including sight-restoring cataract operations.

In 2015 alone following 20 per cent cuts, CBM Australia will have to reduce its planned programs and projects by $750,000. These cuts mean CBM Australia will not be able to assist as many people with disability living in poverty around the world as projected and will disproportionately affect vulnerable groups, such as children, women and girls, people with disability and its various intersections.

A 20 per cent cut to the budget of The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) means a 25 per cent reduction in training and capacity building activities in Timor Leste, impacting around 40 junior doctors, more than 10 local specialists and many other health workers, and a 40 per cent reduction in specialised clinical service and mentoring visits. In RACS’ Pacific Island Program, a 40 per cent funding reduction will cause a 50 per cent reduction in specialised clinical services and mentoring visits. This impacts over 2,000 patients across the Pacific and a cut to capacity building activities, impacting around 300 local clinicians.

The bottom line is blindness and vision loss affects tens of millions of people in our region. It disproportionately affects women and girls, limits human potential constraining economic growth, and is a known driver of inter-generational poverty.

Eye health and vision care programs target the poorest of the poor and most marginalised and work to empower women and girls to increase economic, social and lifestyle opportunities and lift people out of poverty, creating lasting change that ripples through families and communities.

Men and women who were once blinded by cataracts and other eye diseases are not only able to see again, they can work­­­—enabling them to escape poverty. Children who once struggled to see can now go to school, thanks to simple eye screening tests and new glasses.

Australia has a long history of leadership delivering effective eye health programs in Asia and the Pacific. This knowledge is shared through the Vision 2020 Australia Global Consortium and the unique partnership approach enhances collaboration, understanding, and skill sharing and removes duplication ensuring efforts are cost effective and efficient.

For further information

Brandon Ah Tong, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Vision 2020 Australia, (03) 9656 2020