A joint open letter has today been issued by six leading eye health agencies to call on Commonwealth leaders to commit to bringing eye care to all. In the letter, the organisations state that urgent action is needed now to prevent the number of people who are blind and with poor eyesight from trebling by 2050.
85 million people in the Commonwealth today are blind or have very poor vision. Globally, 2.5 billion people lack access to glasses, 1.1 billion of whom need glasses to improve their near vision. As the population of the Commonwealth grows and ages, these numbers are set to rise sharply, meaning millions more people around the Commonwealth and across the world will experience often devastating social, educational and economic hardships as a result of poor eyesight.
It’s estimated that the global cost of vision loss is over $3 trillion per year, which includes $168 billion in lost productivity alone. Yet simple and inexpensive, tried and tested solutions exist to prevent or treat many types of blindness and poor eyesight. Good eyesight transforms lives, releasing people’s potential to learn, to work and to enjoy all that life has to offer, whoever they are and wherever they live. Local economies receive boosts in productivity and reduced social care costs, all of which significantly accelerate the Sustainable Development Goals.
We must all work together to intensify our efforts to ensure that every person in the Commonwealth has access to quality eye health services
Ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting which opens next week in London, The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, Sightsavers, The Fred Hollows Foundation, Peek Vision, Clearly and the International Coalition for Trachoma Control have for the first time come together under the banner “Vision for the Commonwealth” to raise awareness of this issue and unite Governments, advocates, service providers and supporters to bring vision to everyone, everywhere.
In the open letter, the organisations behind Vision for the Commonwealth argue that while much has been achieved in improving eye health, particularly by the Commonwealth, the battle is far from being won. They are asking that at CHOGM, leaders build on progress achieved and commit to a Commonwealth that brings eye care to all and that each country takes one significant action by 2020 towards that goal.
Dr Astrid Bonfield CBE, Chief Executive of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust says:
“Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth in 2011 gave their blessing to the creation of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust to mark and celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s lifetime of service to the Commonwealth. In Colombo in 2013, they called on the Trust to make a decisive contribution to the objective of global elimination of avoidable blindness. To deliver this mission in honour of The Queen, the Trust has been working with vigour and in alliance with partners from all across the Commonwealth to end avoidable blindness once and for all. We are proud to be a part of Vision for the Commonwealth. We cannot think of a more fitting tribute than Commonwealth nations’ leading the way in making eye health accessible to all, bringing vision to everyone, everywhere.”
Dr Caroline Harper CBE, CEO of the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind (commonly known as Sightsavers) says:
“We must all work together to intensify our efforts to ensure that every person in the Commonwealth has access to quality eye health services. The current forecast that the number of people who cannot see properly will triple by 2030 is something we cannot allow to happen given we know how to prevent it.”
Jennifer Gersbeck, Director of Global Partnerships and Advocacy at the Fred Hollows Foundation says:
“‘We know that restoring sight unlocks human potential and combats social and economic barriers in profound ways. Good vision enables young girls to go to school instead of staying home to look after their blind parent and empowers women to start local businesses in the community instead of being afraid to leave their homes. Commonwealth leaders can continue to stride forward and lead the world by accelerating change and making eye health accessible to all.”
If Commonwealth leaders prioritise vision, and commit to tackling avoidable blindness and poor eyesight, the lives of millions of people across the Commonwealth and world will be transformed.