The 63rd United Nations Department of Public Information/NGO Conference, Advance Global Health – Achieve the Millennium Development Goals, was held in Melbourne from 30 August to 1 September and lauded a success for the international eye health and vision care sector.
This conference is the primary means through which the UN engages with NGOs globally, and this year’s conference was only the third time the conference has been held outside New York. Guests included leaders from civil society in Australia and internationally, and keynote speakers included the Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance The Hon Bob McMullan MP, United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon (who was unable to attend the conference in person but delivered his address via video) and Michel Sidibe, the Executive Director of UN AIDS.
Attended by more than 1,600 delegates from more than 350 NGOs, the conference enabled Vision 2020 Australia and member organisations to highlight the central importance of eliminating avoidable blindness in achieving the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and the work being undertaken by Australian agencies in the Asia Pacific and beyond to accelerate efforts towards the elimination of avoidable blindness.
Following a competitive application process, Vision 2020 Australia was involved in two of the conference’s 54 workshops. The first, attended by over 30 delegates, featured Amanda Davis (International Centre for Eyecare Education), Peter Ackland (International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness), Professor Hugh Taylor (University of Melbourne) and Brian Doolan (The Fred Hollows Foundation). It focused on the importance of eye health, the role of VISION 2020: The Right to Sight and the activities of Vision 2020 Australia’s Global Consortium.
The second workshop included Vision 2020 Australia Chief Executive Officer, Jennifer Gersbeck and representatives from the disability and development sector, including Seta Macanawai, the Chief Executive Officer of the Pacific Disability Forum. This workshop was attended by over 65 delegates from Australia and abroad, including more than 50 from mainstream development NGOs who aren’t necessarily working directly in the disability sector. Feedback indicated that both workshops were highlights of the conference and helped raise awareness about the global impact of disabilities, including vision impairment.
In a major breakthrough for the eye health and vision care sector, following several months of lobbying, avoidable blindness was specifically mentioned in the conference’s Communiqué as a key public health issue. The Communiqué draws upon a position paper developed by Vision 2020 Australia, and statements made by Peter Ackland in a session focusing on revising the Communiqué. It also refers, on three occasions, to the important role disability plays in poverty. The Australian Government presented the document to the UN’s MDG Review Summit in New York in September, further raising the profile of this important issue and enhancing momentum towards the inclusion of avoidable blindness in the MDGs.
The conference’s Closing Ceremony contributed further to raising awareness of eye health. A video of conference highlights included an interview Professor Hugh Taylor held during the conference, in which he spoke about the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness’ ‘Big Picture’, which aims to secure sufficient funding from global donors to eliminate avoidable blindness.