NEW YORK—World leaders met in New York yesterday to discuss the value of vision to the world. More than 2.2 billion people, almost one-third of humanity, currently live with vision impairment, with 1.1 billion people suffering from avoidable sight loss, 90 percent of whom live in middle-and-lower-income countries. The meeting, hosted by Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda and supported by organizations in the eye health sector, heard that unaddressed poor sight costs the global economy $411 billion in lost productivity each year and impedes a states’ ability to eradicate poverty and reduce inequalities.

The leaders included Browne, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, prime minister of Nepal, who joined Ministers of Health and Foreign Affairs from countries including Bangladesh, Portugal, Guyana and Singapore. The meeting, held at the margins of the annual United Nations General Assembly this week, focused on raising the profile of eye health as a fundamental development issue critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Also in attendance were eye health organizations, including the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), The Fred Hollows Foundation, The Vision Council, Vision Spring, Sightsavers, CBM, SEVA, World Health Organization (WHO), OneSight EssilorLuxottica Foundation, Cure Blindness, Sightlife and Restoring Vision.

The event was hosted by the honourable prime minister Gaston Browne, Antigua and Barbuda and the UN Friends of Vision co-chairs, H.E. ambassador Walton Webson of Antigua and Barbuda, H.E ambassador Muhammad Abdul Muhith of Bangladesh and H.E ambassador Fergal Mythen of Ireland.

 World leaders meet at an event held by the UN Friends of Vision, which coincided with the United Nations General Assembly.
Prime Minister Browne opened the meeting by saying, “We must focus more of our collective action on health and development initiatives which are achievable and can accelerate progress across the Sustainable Development Goals. Healthy vision is one of those issues, but we must prioritize it more. It can be solved this decade.”

Addressing the meeting, H.E. Rabab Fatima, under secretary-general and high-representative UN-OHRLLS, commented, "We have the necessary technology—and other solutions—needed to end avoidable sight loss today. What we need is enhanced global commitment to address access to eyecare services, vision correction and eye health infrastructure. We must see it better integrated into Universal Health Coverage."

H.E Walton Webson, UN Friends of Vision Group co-chair and permanent representative of Antigua and Barbuda to the UN said, “Now is the time for decisive action on global eye health. The UN Friends of Vision encourage all governments to implement the recommendation in the UN resolution Vision for Everyone, and grasp the opportunities that addressing eye health presents to support global social and economic progress.”

Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Brown, wears a pair of Love Your Eyes glasses at a UN Friends of Vision event, which took place during UNGA meeting in New York City.

The event comes nine months after over 60 countries from the UN Friends of Vision group and over 150 organizations from the eye health sector called for a UN Special Envoy on Vision. Peter Holland, chief executive of the IAPB said, “For many, poor eye health affects their ability to learn, to work or just to participate in daily life and see the faces of the people they love. That’s a tragedy. But it’s also an opportunity.

The impact of providing affordable eye health is profound and transformational. The UN resolution on Vision recognized that—and the critical contribution that vision and good eye health makes to delivering the SDGs. But making good the promise of the resolution doesn’t just need your commitment. It needs leadership. That’s why we continue to call on the UN secretary-general to appoint a special envoy on vision—to be a global champion, to mobilise resources/action from international institutions and to galvanise action at national level,” Holland concluded.