Universal eye health action plan endorsed in WHO high-level meeting

News release

Sandy Scheltema/The Age

To help eliminate avoidable blindness as a public health problem, the World Health Organization Regional Committee for the Western Pacific has reviewed and endorsed the draft action plan Towards Universal Eye Health: A Regional Action Plan for the Western Pacific(2014–2019).

“Recently, stronger efforts have been exerted to highlight blindness as a public health priority in the Region,” says WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, Dr Shin Young-soo.”The draft action plan addresses the need to make eye health a higher priority in the public health arena.”

Towards Universal Eye Health: A Regional Action Plan for the Western Pacific (2014–2019) envisions a Region in which no one is needlessly visually impaired, those with unavoidable vision loss can achieve their full potential and comprehensive eye-care services are available to all. The draft emphasizes the following important principles:

  • positioning blindness and visual impairment prevention higher in the public health agenda;
  • development of cost-effective, integrated and comprehensive interventions for prevention and management of blindness and visual impairment;
  • strengthened health systems approach to blindness and visual impairment prevention with an emphasis on primary and secondary care;
  • enhanced monitoring, evaluation and reporting; and
  • expansion of partnerships and networking with stakeholders.

Several World Health Assembly resolutions highlight the importance of consolidating efforts to eliminate avoidable blindness as a public health problem. In 2009, the Action plan for the prevention of avoidable blindness and visual impairment 2009–2013 was endorsed by the World Health Assembly. On May 2013, the Health Assembly endorsed the Universal Eye Health: A Global Action Plan 2014–2019.

The prevalence of blindness and visual impairment is alarmingly high. In 2010, there were an estimated 90 million visually impaired people in the Western Pacific, including more than 10 million blind people. Globally, three quarters of visual impairment is caused by uncorrected refractive error (42%) and cataracts (33%).

Vision loss from diabetes represents a growing challenge in the Region. Diabetic retinopathy ranks among the leading causes of vision impairment in Pacific island countries and areas. Trachoma is the most common infectious cause of blindness. Although progress has been made towards elimination of the disease in some Asian countries, data from Pacific island countries and areas suggest the disease continues to be a public health problem.

Visual impairment and blindness may cause dependency on others and are debilitating to individuals and their families. Educational opportunities, gainful employment and productivity are severely compromised by the loss of sight or poor vision. The economic burden of visual impairment is substantial. In 2000, it was estimated that the global economic loss from visual impairment was US$ 42 billion per year, and the loss is expected to rise to US$ 110 billion by 2020.

The lack of universal access to eye-care services has varying causes across the Western Pacific Region. Some countries lack the capacity to provide specialized health services and might have a shortage of trained eye-care personnel. As a result, eye-care services may only be available in urban centres, which are beyond the reach of many people.

Other countries may have adequate numbers of trained eye-care personnel and the required infrastructure to provide comprehensive service, but these eye-care services might be privatized and unaffordable to the poor, who are most in need.

While up to 80% of blindness and visual impairment can be treated or prevented, many policy-makers are not aware of the benefits and cost-effectiveness of simple interventions. Efforts to address blindness and visual impairment are often fragmented. Linkages should be strengthened between prevention efforts in the community and referral systems.

With cost-effective strategies available in the Region to reduce the main burden of unnecessary visual impairment, eye health requires the promotion of social and economic development, human rights and equity. Efforts to improve eye health should be integrated within general approaches for health systems strengthening to ensure cross-cutting benefits beyond a single disease focus, especially in low-income settings.

For further information or to request an interview, please contact:

Mr Ruel E. Serrano
Assistant, Public Information Office
Telephone.: +632 528 9993
E-mail: serranor@wpro.who.int

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