Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates,
On behalf of Antigua and Barbuda, Ireland, and my own delegation Bangladesh, and [101co-sponsors, as of last count], I have the honor to introduce the first-ever UN resolution on vision entitled: “Vision for Everyone: accelerating action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”.
This draft resolution is proposed under agenda item 24: “Eradication of poverty and other development issues”, and is contained in document A/75/L.108.
Ambassador Walton Alfonso Webson, Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason and I, thank all delegations for their valuable contribution and support in finalizing the draft for adoption today.
This important task could not have been accomplished without the visionary leadership of my fellow co-chair of the Group of Friends of Vision, Ambassador Webson of Antigua and Barbuda. He could not be here today as he has to attend to some pressing national priorities back home. I pay special tribute to him for his invaluable contribution to generate awareness and action on this highly important issue. I would also like to thank the Members of the Group of Friends who have provided key support to advance this cause over the past years.
We are grateful to the WHO, other UN colleagues and our friends in the civil society for their steadfast support and contribution to our efforts. And our special thanks to our experts for their tireless efforts to reach consensus on this landmark resolution.
Allow me to take this opportunity to thank the 101 co-sponsors. We sincerely hope that more States will join this important resolution before its adoption now.
It is critical to convey a strong message from this Assembly, of our unequivocal commitment to ensure proper eye care facilities for everyone, everywhere, to prevent conditions which can lead to serious and permanent damages. We must seize this opportunity to change the lives of millions who are living in blindness or with impaired vision.
This resolution is a long overdue recognition of the central role that healthy vision plays in human life and for sustainable development.
Millions of people globally lose their visions, needlessly. And this phenomenon largely impedes their ability to contribute to their full potentials to the socio-economic development of their societies. The resolution before us has the potential to reverse this situation.
For those living with sight loss, the cost to them and their societies is enormous. Loss of learning and loss of earning, deny them the opportunities to live in dignity and prosperity.
On an average, sight loss costs the global economy a staggering amount of US$411 billion in productivity each year. Access to eye care services can increase household per capita expenditure by 88%, and the odds of obtaining paid employment by 10%.
Therefore, the imperative to act on vision is not simply moral or ethical. The economic cost is equally untenable.
We cannot achieve our overarching vision of Agenda 2030 of “leaving no one behind” without urgent actions in this area. We must harness the economic potentials of those who are suffering from blindness or impaired vision by enhancing their economic potentials, employment prospects, and workplace productivity.
Eye health is becoming one of the fastest growing areas of public health concerns of our time; and we cannot deny its strong inter-linkages with poverty and inequality that exists both within and among nations.
Over 90% of the 1.1 billion people worldwide who have vision loss live in low- and middle-income countries. They share a common challenge. They do not have access to most basic eye care; and this leads many of them to life-long visual impairment and even blindness. In turn, families and communities get trapped into the cycle of poverty and inequality.
The gender dimension of vision impairment is another phenomenon of great concern. It is no coincidence that 55% of the blind people are women and girls; and they are 8% more likely to be blind than men; and 15% more likely to have moderate to severe vision impairment.
It is imperative to adopt a “whole of society approach” to tackle these issues in a holistic manner. There must be a paradigm shift in our approach to address these vicious cycles of poverty and inequality, which are so closely linked with vision loss.
It is not, however, poverty and inequality only. Vision loss can also be linked to other SDGs, namely, SDG 2 (hunger), SDG 3 (health), SDG 4 (education), SDG 5 (gender inequality), SDG 8 (decent job) etc.
The recently published Lancet Global Health Commission on Global Eye Health revealed that: in low- and middle-income countries, children with vision impairment were 2-5 times less likely to be in formal education. The provision of glasses was found to be one of the most effective health interventions for children’s educational attainment, reducing the odds of failing a class by 44%.
Eye care can be transformative. An eye test for a child can be the difference between getting an education and not getting one. A pair of prescription glasses can make the difference between going to work and not. Corrective eye treatment can be the difference between improved sight and total loss of sight. Vision care and eye health for all can be the difference between fulfillment of the aspirations of the Agenda 2030 or not.
The resolution before us encourages governments to take a “whole-of-government” approach to eye health, linking vision to advancing other development priorities.
It invites international financial institutions and donors to provide appropriate and targeted finances. It calls on relevant UN institutions to support global efforts to achieve vision for everyone to achieve the SDGs.
The adoption of today’s resolution on vision would be a watershed moment in global efforts for vision care. Preventable sight loss is a global challenge that needs a global solution. We cannot hope to end poverty, end hunger or end illiteracy without making eye care central to our global efforts. That involves the lives of more than a billion people globally.
The draft that we have before us can make a world of difference to the lives of billions and their families and communities. We may not be able to bring back the eyesight of the millions who have already lost their vision; but our timely actions can prevent millions more from falling into the same trap; and ensure for the visually impaired a life of hope and aspirations.
Let me conclude by calling upon this august assembly to adopt this resolution with a strong mandate and thus send a strong message of hope to the millions of visually impaired. This can be our solemn pledge from this historic 75th session of the United Nations.
I thank you, Mr. President.