Impact of aid cuts on Vision 2020 Australia members

Vision 2020 Australia brings together the most effective partners in eye health and vision care. Vision 2020 Australia Global Committee members are leading eye health and rehabilitation non-government organisations (NGOs), working collaboratively with the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB). Members work in countries across the Indo-Pacific Region to strengthen eye health and vision care capacity and systems and thereby reduce rates of blindness and vision impairment.

Eye health and vision care programs produce tangible results and are very cost effective, with a $4 return on every $1 invested. The reduction of up to 40 per cent in Australian government funding to the aid sector means that much of the important work planned by Vision 2020 Australia members will not be delivered. This includes vital training for health workers, sight-saving operations and improved vision for children.

Brien Holden Vision Institute

The reduced aid budget translates to a cut of over $2.5 million for the Brien Holden Vision Institute (BHVI), with 45.5 staff cut and over 150,000 people who will no longer benefit from BHVI programs.

Cuts to BHVI programs in Pakistan will decrease capacity to support school eye health programs, reduce development and delivery of low vision services, and impact negatively on 400,000 people who would have otherwise benefited from these interventions.

Due to the funding cuts, BHVI is unable to build on the critical work that has already been done in Latin America in developing optometry schools, delivering continuous professional education and eye health needs assessment. This impacts negatively on 80,000 beneficiaries and leaves important activities unfinished.

The delivery of global programs through BHVI has been severely curtailed as a result of the aid cuts, with all projects in West Africa to cease, and work in South Africa, Sri Lanka and Cambodia to be significantly reduced. A $1.1 million cut from global program delivery means the loss of 26 staff, and thereby the loss of vital expertise in global education, service delivery, communications, research and program support. This impacts more than 49,000 beneficiaries per year.

CBM Australia

With a reduction of the Australian aid budget of 20 per cent, CBM Australia will have to reduce its planned programs and projects by $750,000 in 2015 alone. The cuts mean CBM Australia will not be able to assist as many people with disability living in poverty around the world as projected.

These cuts will disproportionately affect vulnerable groups, such as children, women and girls, people with disability and its various intersections. Many development agencies are already making reductions in programs and staffing, and ‘non-core’ business such as inclusion of vulnerable groups is being cut.

The direct impact of these cuts is that thousands of people with disability will continue living in poverty and be excluded from community life. However, it has a broader economic impact at both community and national level—with new research showing that the exclusion of people with disability can result in a 3 to 7 per cent reduction in GDP in low and middle income countries.[1]

International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness

Without Australian government funding, a regional blindness prevention support program—jointly delivered by the World Health Organization and the IAPB assisting more than 25 countries across Asia and the Pacific—will end in early 2016. This program provides critical assistance to governments to reach the global target for reducing vision impairment, in line with the World Health Organization’s Action Plan for Universal Eye Health. Without this work, commitments from the Action Plan to improve eye health are unlikely to be met.

Royal Australasian College of Surgeons

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) delivers vital training and health system strengthening work through an eye health program in Timor-Leste. A 20 per cent cut to the budget for this program means a 25 per cent reduction in training and capacity building activities, impacting on around 40 junior doctors, more than 10 local specialists and many other health workers. There will also be a 40 per cent reduction in specialised clinical service and mentoring visits, primarily impacting those in rural and remote areas who rely on specialist team visits while the local workforce capacity is being strengthened. The cuts also undermine the delivery of postgraduate training programs through the National University and reduce RACS’ ability to provide health system strengthening activities including quality improvements and audits.

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. The funding cut also means a fifty per cent reduction in capacity building activities, impacting around 300 local clinicians.

The Fred Hollows Foundation

With a 20 per cent reduction in the 2015-16 financial year alone, The Fred Hollows Foundation will need to cut vital activities from ANCP-funded 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.

A 20 per cent funding cut to the 2015-16 financial year of the Pakistan Australian Prevention of Avoidable Blindness Project means 4,200 people will not receive sight-restoring cataract surgery. A total of 45 children under the age of five may become irreversibly blind due to not receiving cataract surgery, and 180 children under the age of five will not be treated for refractive errors. Over 500 workers and students will not receive training in eye health care, including 48 women who will not receive training to become Master Trainers, and 26 students who will not complete their Mid-Level Eye Care Personnel training. Some 3,600 people with a high risk of diabetes will not undergo blood glucose level tests, remaining undiagnosed for diabetes and diabetic retinopathy and potentially go irreversibly blind. Sixty diabetic retinopathy patients will go permanently blind due to lack of laser treatment, and approximately 15,000 school children will lose the opportunity to be screened for refractive error, leaving over 650 without glasses.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) provides educational exchanges, training facilities and programs which cannot be sustained if funding is discontinued to the programs RANZCO partners with. Through Australian Government funded programs, RANZCO has developed significant training resources: ophthalmologists donate their time free of charge to provide training, education and mentorship to eye doctors in countries across the Indo-Pacific Region and to strengthen eye health workforce capacity. The 20 per cent funding cuts mean that the hundreds of free volunteer ophthalmologists will go unused.




For further information

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

Lena Morgon Banks and Sarah Polack, “The Economic Costs of Exclusion and Gains of Inclusion of People with Disabilities: Evidence from Low and Middle Income Countries”, International Centre for Evidence in Disability, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine,