The UN Friends of Vision group, International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) and The Lancet Global Health released new evidence proving that eye health is essential to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The event which featured the launch of the IAPB Vision Atlas and the Lancet Global Health Commission on Global Eye Health, was hosted by UN Ambassadors from Antigua & Barbuda, Bangladesh and Ireland and addressed by Volkan Bozkir, president of the UN General Assembly.
Hundreds of attendees joining online heard the following key messages:
- 1.1 billion people experience vision loss primarily because they do not have access to eye care services.
- Over 90% of those with vision loss live in low- and middle-income countries.
- 73 of people with vision loss are over 50 years old.
- 55% of people with vision loss are women.
- The number of people with vision loss will rise from 1.1 billion to 1.7 billion people by 2050, mainly due to population growth and population ageing.
- Over 90% of vision loss could have been prevented.
The leading causes of vision loss include:
- Uncorrected refractive error, which is responsible for distance vision loss in 161 million people and near vision loss in an additional 510 million people.
- Unoperated cataracts, responsible for vision loss in 100 million people.
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy accounting for 8.1 million, 7.8 million and 4.4 million people with vision loss respectively.
- 56m have other causes of vision loss.
- Unaddressed poor vision results in a global economic productivity loss of $411 billion per annum.
- Poor eye health leads to an increased risk (up to 2.6 times) of mortality.
- Children with a vision impairment are up to 5 times less likely to be in formal education and often achieve poorer outcomes.
Eye care needs are expected to increase substantially; projections estimate half of the global population (4.8 billion) will need access to regular eye care services to prevent and treat sight loss by 2050.
During his key-note address President of the United Nations General Assembly H.E. Volkan Bozkir said “Vision cuts across a plurality of the Sustainable Development Goals. Eye Health is key to ensuring good health, mental health and wellbeing. Poor eye health leads to an increased risk of mortality, of non-communicable diseases and of mental disorders like depression and anxiety.”
“It is time for concrete actions, solutions and partnerships to mobilise all necessary resources. We need strong integration of eye care in national health services, including at primary health care level to ensure that the eye care needs of more people are addressed through prevention, early detection, treatment and rehabilitation.
“We will not regain progress on the SDGs or the Decade of Action if we fail to accommodate those with special needs. It is imperative that our efforts to recover from COVID-19 and to speed up support to the SDGSs and Universal Health Care include support to vision impairment.”
Opening the event Ambassador Walton Webson of Antigua and Barbuda said “Many of us experience various degrees of vision loss, indeed have a disability. But access to good public health, access to rehabilitation, access to technology will help in creating the space and or opportunity for the millions around the world with vision loss to contribute towards meeting the SDGS if given the environment and opportunity for care, and services regardless of the circumstance.
“The momentum behind our work, and the evidence base, continues to grow. Many of my colleagues will now have seen that we circulated a zero draft of a first-of-its-kind UNGA resolution on healthy vision and the SDGs. We must embed progress on vision in our work to advance the SDGs.”
Commenting on the launch of the Vison Atlas, IAPB Chief Executive Officer, Peter Holland said “IAPB is pleased to launch our Vision Atlas at a special meeting of the United Nations Friends of Vision Group. The new data contained in the Vision Atlas is an important tool for the sector both for advocacy, planning and academic purposes.
“Action on vision loss is essential if the world is to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It is our aim with the Vision Atlas that we can show in an accessible way the impact that good quality eye care can have on people’s lives. For example, enabling children to benefit from education, helping working adults keep their jobs and ensuring older people can participate in their families and communities.”
As well as Ambassador Walton Webson of Antigua and Barbuda, Ambassador Rabab Fatima of Bangladesh and Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason of Ireland the meeting heard from senior UN figures including Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, Stewart Simonson assistant-director general, WHO and Beate Andrees, special representative to the UN and director of the International.
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