ICO President, Dr Hugh Taylor;
WOC2018 President, Dr Rafael Barraquer;
SEO President, Dr José Luis Encinas;
WOC2018 Scientific Program Committee Chair, Professor Clement Tham;
Members of the Medical Community;
Members of the Media;
Government officials and Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
I would like to begin by sincerely apologising for not being able to be with you in person; sharing in the critical dialogue around eye health that continues to drive our collective activism and work in this sector.
It is nevertheless a great privilege to be given the opportunity to address you, in absentia, and make this brief contribution to this year’s gathering – in my official capacity as the International Council of Ophthalmology Ambassador for Vision 2020 in the Sub-Saharan African region.
Hosted by the Spanish Society of Ophthalmology (SEO), this year, and attended by representatives from over 140 countries, this gathering is the longest continuous international medical meeting. Consequently, the decisions and initiatives that stem from this assembly will be of significant global consequence.
Issues of eye health and preventable blindness remain international challenges that are at acute levels in regions where access to healthcare remains in the hands of the wealthier sectors of society, additionally affected by broader socio-economic challenges that preclude universal access to treatment.
With advances in medicine, we now know that up to 80% of blindness is preventable. Still the statistics from Africa prove daunting.
According to data from the World Health Organisation:
‘Approximately 26.3 million people in the African Region have a form of visual impairment. Of these, 20.4 million have low vision and 5.9 million are estimated to be blind. It is estimated that 15.3% of the world’s blind population reside in Africa.’
As I have previously stated, Africa is a unique continent with unique eye care challenges and needs. In fact, Africa carries a large burden of diseases without commensurate resources to respond appropriately. This is despite the rich and targeted contribution that native African medicine has made to modern medicine.
There is consequently a great and pressing need for Health Departments across the continent to develop integrated and holistic preventative programmes, sensitive to each country’s unique challenges. Additionally, those professionals and sub-specialists outside of the continent should contribute their knowledge, skills, training, and expertise to addressing these eye health challenges, as global allies.
Avoidable blindness remains a critical health issue. It is unacceptable that most blind children in Africa have lost their sight due to preventable causes. Many of the visually impaired children that live in Africa today need not have lost their sight were they diagnosed early, and had universal access to quality treatment and medical care. These beliefs underscore my commitment to universal eye health.
As challenges to eye health care remain, bringing into question the attainment of our Vision 2020 goals, new and collective approaches to this issue must be continually sought. Current projections predict that after decades of decline, avoidable blindness is projected to increase until 2050 – owing largely to a growing, ageing population.
Thus, we require comprehensive and holistic approaches to eye health, from birth until maturity to address eye health in a manner that focuses on the full scope of human life – from paediatric ophthalmology to adult cataracts and glaucoma, in pursuit of optimal health.
Eye health is critical to access to dignified work, financial security, education and the development of skills. Thus, it is critical to the development and strengthening of our societies and citizenry. In addressing the challenges to the sector, we are tasked with keeping in mind that eye health intersects with addressing and alleviating poverty, gender iniquity, inequality, access to education, and ensuring that the rights of people with disabilities are respected.
A conference like this thus has a critical role to play in implementing our vision for a future where universal eye health is attained, in Africa and beyond it, as this gathering stands at the apex of scientific research and innovation in ophthalmology, with input from industry leaders and esteemed professionals.
In closing, I would like to extend a warm invitation to all of you, inviting you to attend the upcoming gathering of the WOC, taking place in Cape Town in 2020.
I wish you well in upcoming events and sessions that will take place over the next few days. I am hopeful that these dialogues, presentations and discussions will be productive and advance our collective aims, as we continue to strive towards the attainment of a global future in which coming generations will be free of afflictions and health challenges associated with preventable blindness.
Thank you for your kind attention.