The World Health Organization recently called for accelerated action to provide quality, affordable, integrated and people-centered comprehensive eye care for everyone, for addressing the increasing and disproportionate burden of vision impairment and blindness in the WHO South-East Asia Region.
According to Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, “Nearly 30% of the 2.2 billion people living with vision-impaired or blindness globally, are in WHO South-East Asia Region. This huge burden is unacceptable, as nearly half the global vision impairment could have been prevented or are yet to be addressed.
Inaugurating a high-level meeting of Member countries on ‘Integrated People-Centred Eye Care, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, said, “Young children and older people are most vulnerable while women, rural populations and ethnic minority groups are more likely to have vision impairment and less likely to access care.” The increased prevalence of vision impairment and blindness in the Region among people of all socio-economic group, also tracks with the rising tide of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes.
In 2019, the Region was home to 87.6 million people with diabetes. Of them, 30.6 million had diabetic retinopathy (eye disease caused by high blood sugar), and 9.6 million had sight-threatening retinopathy (blindness caused by untreated diabetic retinopathy).
The three-day high-level meeting being attended by Ministers of Health in person / virtually, and programme managers from across Member countries of the Region will deliberate on urgent measures to roll out ‘Action plan for integrated people-centred eye care in South-East Asia 2022 – 2030’. The LV Prasad Eye Institute, a comprehensive eye health facility and a World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Prevention of Blindness, is supporting the meeting.
The regional action plan aims at enabling countries achieve 40% increase in effective coverage of refractive errors, 30% increase in effective coverage of cataract surgery, at least 80% people with diabetes are screened regularly for retinopathy, and at least 80% of those identified with sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy are treated by 2030. The plan also outlines measures that countries can take to eliminate trachoma in the Region by 2025. Two countries in the Region – Nepal and Myanmar – have eliminated trachoma.
“The regional action plan details a series of actionable, evidence based and locally adaptable strategies which need to be implemented with urgency,” the Regional Director said.
People and communities need to be engaged and empowered, with the focus on at-risk and underserved population, to increase health literacy and enhance demand for eye care services, Dr Khetrapal Singh said.
Management of common eye health issues should be mainstreamed into routine health services and current care models must be reoriented to prioritize primary health care and community-based services, she said.
The Regional Director called for vigorously strengthening eye health workforce and emphasised on financial risk protection to enable people access essential medicines, spectacles, low-vision aids, rehabilitation and assistive products. WHO will continue to provide Member countries its full technical and operational support? Addressing vision impairment with universal eye care is not just a health issue, its critical to achieving multiple Sustainable Development Goals including ending poverty, hunger, education, gender equity and work, Dr Khetrapal Singh, said.