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Call for Global Leaders to End Geographical Inequity of Eye Health Services

This World Sight Day (12 October), international development organisation Sightsavers is calling on global leaders to end the geographical inequity of eye health services.

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(PRESS RELEASE) Everyone, including remote and rural communities, women and girls, people with disabilities, should have access to the services they need. Yet the availability of eye health services and products like glasses varies across and within countries. They are often easily accessible in urban areas but less so in other places and for marginalised groups.

Globally, 1.1 billion people have an untreated or preventable visual impairment1. Many regions also have low numbers of ophthalmologists, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa which ranges from between one and four ophthalmologists per million people1. The World Health Organization’s minimum recommendation is 4 ophthalmologists per million2.

Women account for more than half of blindness and visual impairment across the world1. Compared to people without disabilities, people with disabilities are also three times less likely to get the healthcare they need3

Sumrana Yasmin, Deputy Technical Director: Eye Health and URE at Sightsavers comments: “Eye health should be equally available to everyone, no one should be disadvantaged because of where they live, their gender, health, or background. But currently it is inaccessible for some sectors of society and even a luxury for those in urban areas.

“This needs to change. When we tackle these issues, children can learn and adults can earn. Eye health equals a ripple effect on the lives of individuals, families, and communities, helping nations to thrive and reducing poverty and inequality.”

Governments are working towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of United Nations (UN) goals which aim to reduce global poverty and inequality and protect the planet. They include a target to achieve universal health coverage (UHC), ensuring everyone has access to health services. In 2021, global leaders also unanimously adopted the UN ‘Vision for Everyone’ resolution, which explicitly links eye health to all the SDGs.

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To achieve the goals and resolution, inclusive eye health is essential. Unless it is recognised as a vital part of healthcare and development, efforts to achieve the SDGs and UHC will fail. Indeed, the World Health Organization reported in September that “the world is off track to make significant progress towards universal health coverage” and that improvements to health services coverage have stagnated4.

The impact of inclusive eye health can be seen through stories such as Apolot from the Karamoja Region in Uganda.  As a result of cataract, she found herself unable to do things like fetching water, cooking, or even dressing herself.

Apolot’s sight was restored thanks to surgery through a Sightsavers’ inclusive eye health project, funded by the UK government through UK Aid Match. She is excited about regaining autonomy and hopes to find work on farms so that she can earn an income to support herself. “I am very happy now that my sight has been restored. I feel like a young girl again, I can now see.”

Sightsavers and partners are also marking World Sight Day by hosting activities across Africa and Asia, including eye health screenings and provision of glasses. Many are also creating an #EyeCreation, making the shape of an eye with items or people and sharing this on social media to raise awareness of eye health and its transformative impact.

Sumrana continues: “We are already working with governments and other partners to improve eye health services and we commend their efforts. But more needs to be done to ensure eye health is represented in health planning, resourcing, and funding. Including people with disabilities, women, and other marginalised groups, community outreach, and a geographically spread workforce, will help reduce disparity of access.”

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