Opening Remarks Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Consultation on the Draft Western Pacific Regional Action Plan for the Prevention of Avoidable Blindness (2014-2019)

Manila, Philippines
6 May 2013

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

I am pleased to welcome you to this consultation on the Draft Western Pacific Regional Action Plan for the Prevention of Avoidable Blindness for the period 2014-2019.

It is often said that “we don’t know what we have until we lose it”.

Eyesight, or the ability to see is something that we in public health can easily take for granted.

Over the years, WHO has become more concerned about the number of people who are slowly losing their ability to see. The reasons for this could be different in different parts of the region.

In some contexts, people are living longer but their quality of life may be diminished because of visual impairment.

It is important to remind ourselves that around three quarters of visual impairment in the world are caused by two causes only: cataract and refractive error.

In some settings where hygiene and sanitation is poor, a chlamydia infection can cause blinding trachoma that can render permanent blindness.

In many parts of the Region, huge segments of the population suffer from undetected and untreated diabetes and hypertension that can result in severe retinopathy that can cause irreversible visual impairment.

One of the key challenges is that these blinding conditions all too often are viewed in isolation rather than within the context of broader public health and development challenges.

Eye care systems require better integration within health systems, at all levels.

If we don’t take collective action, blindness and visual impairment will continue to stop people from living normal lives.

It will force many people to give up their livelihood. It will deprive people of the ability to enjoy their families and lived ones. It will create dependency, depression and a lack of purpose.

Over the next three days, you will be discussing the draft plan of the first regional action plan for the prevention of avoidable blindness in the Western Pacific Region.

The action plan will guide the way for effective and efficient planning in countries. The plan sets specific targets and defines indicators on how to measure progress along the way.

But let me end here, since you will obviously have enough time yourself to discuss the regional action plan over the next couple of days.

But before I go, I would like to point out that Prevention of Blindness will be on the agenda of the upcoming Regional Committee and the final draft of action plan you are developing over the next three days will be discussed and submitted for endorsement at this high level meeting.

I would also like to acknowledge the tremendous support by the Australian Government towards the prevention of blindness programme at WPRO and in our Region.

I certainly hope your work will be productive and I look forward to hearing the outcome of your discussion and recommendations.