|Press Release WHO/12
17 February 1999
VISION 2020: THE RIGHT TO SIGHT
WHO Director-General Launches A Global Initiative To Combat Avoidable Blindness
In order to drastically reduce the global burden of blindness, which currently affects an estimated 40--45 million people worldwide, the World Health Organization (WHO) and a broad coalition of international, nongovernmental and private organisations launched today in Geneva a global initiative "VISION 2020: THE RIGHT TO SIGHT". The objective of the new initiative is to eliminate avoidable blindness by 2020.
"Blindness represents a serious public health, social and economic problem for our Member States. It is especially true for the developing countries, where 9 out of 10 of the world's blind live," stated Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of WHO. "Up to 80% of global blindness is avoidable: it either results from the conditions that could have been prevented or can be successfully treated with the sight restored," she said.
Today, there is an estimated 180 million people worldwide who are visually disabled. Of these, between 40 and 45 million persons are blind and, by definition, cannot walk about unaided. Around 60% of the world's blind reside in sub-Saharan Africa, China and India.
In spite of the international efforts made so far, emphasized Dr Brundtland, the global burden of blindness was increasing because of the population growth and ageing and, if the present trend persisted, it could double by 2020.
According to WHO Director-General, the only way to reduce the global burden of blindness is a meaningful worldwide partnership. "VISION 2020 is about partnership. This is one of the most important aspects for WHO in the future. We must be able to reach out and form new partnerships to broaden the range of collaborators also from fields not directly involved in health care," she remarked.
Five conditions have been identified as immediate priorities within the framework of VISION 2020. These are cataract, trachoma, onchocerciasis, childhood blindness and refractive errors and low vision. Their choice, as Dr Brundtland explained, was based on the burden of blindness they represent and the feasibility and affordability of interventions to prevent and treat them.
"Cataract is responsible today for close to 50% of global blindness. We are looking at a disorder that is associated with ageing and affects all populations around the world," Dr Brundtland noted. Fighting cataract, she stressed, would be one of the many international activities highlighted in 1999 the International Year of the Older Persons.
Under VISION 2020, major concerted international efforts will be made in such areas as advocacy and resource mobilization, joint planning and strengthening national capacities through human resource development and the transfer of appropriate technologies to developing countries.
Significant progress in the prevention of avoidable blindness has already been made through individual efforts by WHO and its Member States, other UN agencies and nongovernmental development organizations (NDGOs). Collectively, the NDGOs currently spend about US$80 million each year on the prevention of blindness. This amount has to be at least doubled if the targets set by VISION 2020 are to be achieved.
VISION 2020 will place emphasis on the training of mid-level personnel who are the backbone of national programmes for the prevention of blindness. In this respect, Africa is recognized as the priority region with the greatest need for such personnel. The transfer of technology to developing countries is another important element of the initiative.
VISION 2020 will be implemented through 4 five-year plans, the first one starting in 2000. The choice of the countries, where VISION 2020 will be implemented, is to be regionally prioritized on the basis of the burden of blindness and of available resources.
"Much of the philosophy of VISION 2020 lies in the recognition that, by working together, we can achieve what was previously not possible for individual agencies. This is, indeed, the best message we can get across to demonstrate opportunities for more action in the field of international health," Dr Brundtland said.
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