Australian Professor Brien Holden and South African Professor Kovin Naidoo have once again united, this time for World Sight Day today – 13 October – with an aim to raise US$4billion – enough to fund the training, eye examinations, and spectacle supply to permanently stem the tide of refractive error.
The pair is recognised around the world as ‘global four-star generals’ in the war on avoidable blindness and vision impairment in developing communities. With an army amassed in the last 13 years of locally trained and based eye care workers on the ground in locations in which they work (429 sites and Vision Centres at last count), they have fought and won battles with governments and institutions worldwide to reduce the number of those in need of eye care.
Sadly, the battle rages on. There are 670 million people still in need of care today.
So how do you tackle an enemy that size and sustain the fight long enough to make a difference?
We have trained more than 37,500 eye care personnel and established or assisted with the development of 14 Schools of Optometry in some of the poorest countries in the world…
Professor Brien Holden, CEO of the International Centre for Eyecare Education (ICEE), says current ICEE initiatives are moving forward rapidly to address the global problem. “The good news is we know solutions are there and in the long term we are seeing progress”, he said.
“We are continuing to focus on building sustainable capacity in each region and believe that to achieve the scale of progress needed, efforts must be scaled up, ultimately creating a balance of local entrepreneurial development and increased private and public partnerships to compliment and strengthen the existing government or non government infrastructure.”
“A fabulous example of government involvement is the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) Avoidable Blindness Initiative (ABI). The ABI is an AU$66m commitment to improve the quality of life of those with vision impairment and blindness and to reduce the prevalence in South East Asia and the Pacific region. The ABI works with the Vision 2020 Australia Global Consortium – a group of nine Australian NGOs, including ICEE, that work with local partners to carry out the in-country programmes,” he added.
“It is this type of government partnership we are working towards in other regions, and coupled with the support of sponsors such as Optometry Giving Sight, Standard Chartered Bank and private donors, we know we can make a difference to lives everywhere we work,” he said.
Fostering New Partnerships
Professor Kovin Naidoo, Global Programmes Director for ICEE, says the organisation is fostering new partnerships and programmes in the vastly populated areas of Africa, China, India, Pakistan, Middle East and South America. “With over 1.1 billion people in India and 1.3 billion in China alone, together approximately one third of the world’s population, the importance of building capacity in these vastly populated regions cannot be understated.”
ICEE has screened, examined and treated in excess of 1.7 million patients. But it is the ICEE education programmes in each country for which Prof. Naidoo is most proud. “We have trained more than 37,500 eye care personnel and established or assisted with the development of 14 Schools of Optometry in some of the poorest countries in the world,” he said.
“It is capacity building that creates sustainable systems – local people trained to eventually teach more local people to then provide ongoing services to the population – that’s what we aim to achieve wherever we work. But developing Schools of Optometry and training personnel in existing health care systems is what we need to desperately accelerate if we are to live in a world where one day we all have equal access to eye care.”
In Africa where ICEE has been building sustainable eye care services for more than a decade, 19 new vision centres were opened over the last year and a milestone was reached in Eritrea, when the first group of optometry technicians completed their training and graduated.
The global cost of uncorrected refractive error – a term which encompasses myopia, hyperopia and presbyopia – is daunting. A study published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organisation in June 2009 estimated the global economy loses I$269 billion. (The international dollar (I) is a hypothetical unit of currency with the same purchasing power that the US dollar has in the United States at a given point in time. It shows how much a local currency unit is worth within the country’s borders. Conversions to international dollars are calculated using purchasing power parities (PPP). If all the dollars were to be spent in the USA, then I$1 = 1USD.)