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Orbis attends the 70th World Health Assembly to promote Universal Eye Health

By Silvana Vivas

At the end of May, a delegation from Orbis attended the 70th World Health Assembly in Geneva.

The World Health Assembly (WHA), held annually, is the decision making body of the World Health Organisation (WHO). As in previous years, Orbis attended the WHA to support the global agenda on eye health and to raise the profile of avoidable blindness and visual impairment.

This year’s assembly marked the mid-way point of the WHO’s Global Action Plan (GAP) on universal eye health. Orbis was one of the co-sponsors of an official side event held to discuss the GAP, organised by the International Agency of the Prevention of Blindness (IABP) and the Fred Hollows Foundation. Ministers of health and senior government officials from over 22 countries around the world came together to discuss progress towards universal eye health in their countries, including Ethiopia, China, Australia, Pakistan, Tonga, Indonesia, and Malta.

At the side event, Dr Taye Tolera Balcha from the Ministry of Health in Ethiopia reminded delegates that short-term eye health interventions are not solutions. Rather, eye health must be embedded into broader health systems. The panel reaffirmed the importance of training and retaining eye health workers, including at the community level, to improve access to eye care. The panelists recognised how working in partnership is vital in fighting avoidable blindness, whether to eliminate neglected tropical diseases like trachoma, or to use effective screening to address the rising tide of diabetic retinopathy.

Jennifer Gersbeck, representing the IAPB, emphasised that we must champion inclusive eye health services that ‘leave no one behind’, including women and girls and other marginalised groups that are currently less able to access eye health services.

The side event had a clear call to action to accelerate progress in reducing avoidable blindness. There were calls for the WHO to produce a ‘World Report on Vision’ to guide the work on universal eye health beyond the global action plan, which comes to an end in 2019. Dr Etienne Krug of the WHO thanked delegates for this request and stated that the report would be taken forward with the support of many different organisations. Orbis welcomes the decision for a World Report on Vision and we look forward to supporting the process with our knowledge and expertise.

This article was first published by Orbis Ireland.

Image: Virginia Sarah / Fred Hollows Foundation

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