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Blindness: Vision 2020 - The Global Initiative for the Elimination of Avoidable Blindness

Fact sheet N°213

Blindness: the global picture

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. They are usually in need of vocational and/or social support.

The loss of sight causes enormous human suffering for the affected individuals and their families. It also represents a public health, social and economic problem for countries, especially the developing ones, where 9 out of 10 of the world's blind live. In fact, around 60% of them reside in sub-Saharan Africa, China and India.

Approximately 50% of the world's blind suffer from cataract. The majority of the remaining persons are blind from conditions that include, among others, glaucoma, trachoma, onchocerciasis (also known as river blindness) and different conditions of childhood blindness. Despite a half century of efforts, commencing with organized trachoma control activities, the global burden of blindness is growing largely because of the population growth and ageing.

Approximately 50% of the world's blind suffer from cataract. The majority of the remaining persons are blind from conditions that include, among others, glaucoma, trachoma, onchocerciasis (also known as river blindness) and different conditions of childhood blindness.

Despite a half century of efforts, commencing with organized trachoma control activities, the global burden of blindness is growing largely because of the population growth and ageing.

If additional resources are not urgently mobilized and efforts are not made to curb this trend, by 2020 the global burden of blindness can double. The developing countries will bear the brunt.

Avoidable Blindness

According to WHO estimates, about 80% of global blindness is avoidable: either it results from the conditions that could have been prevented or controlled if the available knowledge and interventions had been timely applied (e.g. trachoma and river blindness); or it can be successfully treated with the sight restored (e.g. cataract).

Significant progress in the prevention of avoidable blindness has already been made through individual efforts of the international community, including those by the World Health Organization (WHO) and its Member States, other UN agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector.

Given the scope of the problem, the time has come for a major focused and concerted international effort to combat avoidable blindness.

VISION 2020 -- the right to sight: A Global Initiative for the Elimination of Avoidable Blindness

In order to make a concerted worldwide effort, WHO and a Task Force of international NGOs have jointly prepared and launched a common agenda for global action: "VISION 2020 -- The Right to Sight".

VISION 2020 is based on the concept of a broad coalition of all international, nongovernmental and private organizations, which collaborate with WHO in the prevention of blindness and eye care delivery. They share the objective of eliminating avoidable blindness as a public health problem by the year 2020, provided adequate resources are available. These organizations will also jointly work to mitigate the implications of blindness in developmental, social, economic and quality-of-life terms.

 

Today, the international community spends 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 allow the international community to fight avoidable blindness through:

disease prevention and control;

training of personnel;

strengthening the existing eye care infrastructure;

use of appropriate and affordable technology; and

mobilization of resources.

The very first step towards VISION 2020 will be a global campaign to raise awareness among peoples and governments about societal implications of blindness, as well as to mobilize a strong, long-term political and professional commitment to eliminate avoidable blindness.

National decision-makers and donor agencies need to be convinced that financial and human resources provided for the elimination of avoidable blindness are a sound, worthwhile investment.

What is new about the Global Initiative?

First, the common objective of eliminating avoidable blindness by 2020 will enable all partners to work in a focused and coordinated manner. The joint advocacy campaign will help raise global awareness about blindness and mobilize additional resources to prevent or treat avoidable blindness.

Second, VISION 2020 will further develop and strengthen the primary health/eye care approach to the problem of avoidable blindness. This will be done on the basis of the invaluable international and national experience already gained through the ongoing national programmes.

Finally, the Initiative will seek broad regional alliances and, eventually, a global partnership for eye health. These partnerships are indispensable to establish worldwide the fundamental human "Right to Sight" and thus save future generations from the tragedy of needless blindness.

Implementation of VISION 2020

VISION 2020 will be implemented through 4 five-year plans, the first one starting in 2000. The three subsequent phases of implementation will commence in 2005, 2010 and 2015 respectively. During the ongoing preparatory period, priority is given to the issues of advocacy, regional planning and resource mobilization.

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.  

VISION 2020 partners

Task Force Members:

International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness

Al Noor Foundation

Christoffel-Blindenmission(Christian Blind Mission International)

Helen Keller Worldwide

International Federation of Ophthalmological Societies

Lions Clubs International Foundation

Organisation pour la Prévention de la Cécité

Operation Eyesight Universal

ORBIS International

Sight Savers International

The Carter Center

The Fred Hollows Foundation

Supporting members: Dark & Light

Perkins School for the Blind

Seva Foundation

International Centre for Eyecare Education

The American Academy of Ophthalmology

The Asian Foundation for the Prevention of Blindness

The Canadian National Institute for the Blind

The Lighthouse International

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