Mr Gerhard Schlenther, July 2019 – January 2020
Mr Brandon Ah-Tong, January – June 2020
The Committee met on three occasions over the reporting period: 5 December 2019, 27 February 2020, 30 April 2020.
It has been a challenging period for global eye health, in part driven by further tightening of the economic environment and exacerbated by this year’s COVID-19 pandemic. There have, however, been some very positive developments and the Committee has continued to work towards improving support for international eye health efforts.
Work done early in the reporting period saw Committee members come together to map existing activities and gain cross sector agreement to a short list of priority countries and interventions for action.
Among these was Papua New Guinea which has some of the highest rates of blindness in the world, and committee members came together to develop a budget proposal to tackle blindness in Papua New Guinea. The Brien Holden Foundation, the Fred Hollows Foundation and RANZCO were also instrumental in this process, providing components for inclusion in the proposal which spanned infrastructure, workforce development and outreach services.
Release of the World Report on Vision on World Sight Day in 2019 was a significant milestone, and the Committee was pleased to see Australia be the first country in the Western Pacific to launch the report at the November 2019 Parliamentary Friends Group for Eye Health and Vision event in Canberra. There was strong interest from a range of MPs in the report, and it was pleasing to have the CEO and Chair of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness in attendance at that event.
The Australian Government’s agreement to co-sponsor a related resolution at the 2020 World Health Assembly was well received by the Committee and others in the sector as we feel this will be an important element in maintaining awareness and support for the work of Committee members in the area of global eye health.
In the reporting period we were also pleased to see the Australian Government commit to funding a second National Eye Health Survey, which will likely assist in Australia reporting against any measures agreed internationally to track progress against commitments made via the resolution.
A new policy committee cycle commenced in early 2020, which saw some changes to membership of the committee, as well as a transitioning of the chairperson role. The new committee agreed on some key priorities for action over the coming period with a focus on enhancing communications regarding member contributions and impacts in international eye health; expanding advocacy efforts; and exploring new options for partnership. While the subsequent impacts of COVID-19 saw member organisations pivot their efforts to COVID-19 related activities, these priorities remain relevant in this new and very different environment.
Indeed, committee members meeting to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 highlighted the various ways in which member organisations had been able to utilise their existing in-country networks, staff and expertise to support local containment efforts. For example, The Fred Hollows Foundation pivoted funds from its comprehensive eye care program in Pakistan to help in the fight against COVID-19. Funds were repurposed to source and distribute over 2,950 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits to frontline health workers, initiate telemedicine consultation services and launch a COVID19 public awareness and health messaging campaign.
CBM Australia pivoted their Inclusive Eye Care Project in Vietnam to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and ensure no one was left behind. Through their network of eye care centres and Disabled People’s Organisations, they disbursed hygiene kits to help protect the community against the virus and launched a public awareness and health messaging campaign in local languages to reach people with vision impairment or low literacy with critical COVID-19 public heath advice.
These examples highlight that investment in eye health delivers wider benefits to communities and can play an important role in driving integrated responses.
While it has been a challenging time the Committee noted that the sector’s responsiveness and contributions during the pandemic should be recognised and celebrated, and the Vision 2020 Australia will be exploring such opportunities over coming months.
In closing, we would like to thank all Committee members and their proxies for their participation in Committee meetings, and their diverse and insightful contributions to our shared work.