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Call for NZ Govt to end avoidable blindness

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Today is World Sight Day, and to mark the occasion The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ is calling on the New Zealand Government to take part in global efforts to end avoidable blindness.

The World Health Organisation is currently seeking feedback on ‘Draft Zero’, a new Action Plan for the Prevention of Avoidable Blindness and Visual Impairment released last month. This is a unique opportunity for the New Zealand Government to participate in global efforts to end avoidable blindness and visual impairment by the year 2020.

"The New Zealand Government has already made a significant investment in The Foundation’s sight-restoring programs in the Pacific Islands through their international aid and development program," says Andrew Bell, Executive Director of The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ. "We now stand ready to support them to actively engage in the final push to end avoidable blindness by 2020."

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 285 million people worldwide live with visual impairment. Of these, 39 million are blind and 90 per cent live in low income countries. But four out of five people who are blind do not have to be, their condition could be prevented or treated using known and cost effective methods.

"The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ works to end avoidable blindness in the Pacific Islands, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste where more than 80,000 people are needlessly blind," says Mr Bell. "We strongly believe that New Zealand needs to be active as a regional voice, supporting the governments of the smaller Pacific Island nations who are often overlooked on the global agenda."

The impacts of blindness and vision loss are significant for both individuals and governments. Aside from the clear health and humanitarian imperative, there are enormous economic and productivity benefits from improving people’s vision. The global economic impact of vision loss and impairment was estimated in 2000 at US$ 42 billion, rising to US$ 110 billion per annum by 2020. Failure to address this issue will also make it harder for developing countries to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, the world's time-bound and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty.

"Ending avoidable blindness in the Pacific Islands would have a significant impact on the social and economic wellbeing of thousands of people," says Mr Bell. "What many people don’t realise is that by ending avoidable blindness we can also help to eradicate hunger and poverty, reduce child mortality, get kids into school, improve maternal health and combat diseases like malaria."

The draft Action Plan will be considered by the WHO Executive Board in January 2013 and by the World Health Assembly in 2013.

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