World health ministers adopt new eye health targets

The targets aim to increase effective coverage of refractive error and cataract surgery by 2030

Pixabay/Tobias Dahlberg

World ministers of health have agreed to adopt two new eye health targets for 2030, addressing cataract and refractive error – the two leading causes of blindness and vision impairment.

All countries have committed to a 40% increase in effective coverage of refractive error by 2030 and a 30% increase in effective coverage of cataract surgery by 2030.

The commitment was made at the 74th World Health Assembly (27 May), the highest decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The targets are set to build on WHO’s global strategy on vision, set out in its World report on vision and the World Health Assembly resolution on eye health.

Director of non-communicable diseases for the WHO, Dr Bente Mikkelsen, said of the targets: “It’s a fundamental priority that integrated people-centred eye care is part of Universal Health Coverage and health systems.”

Mikkelsen added that the WHO wants to “step-up the country impact,” particularly through the development of tools and resources to support countries to build capacity and strengthen eye care in their health systems.

Suggesting the targets were a starting point with the potential to drive further action, Alarcos Cieza, unit head for vision, disability and rehabilitation at the WHO, said: “We know very well that what gets measured gets done.”

The new targets come as world leaders negotiate a resolution on eye health at the United Nations, which would link eye health directly to several of the Sustainable Development Goals.

A ‘high-level’ side event on Universal Health Coverage and Eye Care: new targets for a new decade, was also held at the World Health Assembly, hosted by the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), Sightsavers, The Fred Hollows Foundation, Light for the World and CMB, along with the Governments of Australia and Indonesia.

Over 250 health ministers, government officials, WHO representatives, civil society, academic, private sector organisations and eye health experts attended the side event.

Peter Holland, chief executive of the IAPB welcomed the targets, calling the commitment a “significant milestone for eye health.”

He said: “Over 1.1 billion people are needlessly living with poor vision because they do not have access to basic eye care services like a pair of glasses or a cataract surgery. Without action, this number will rise to 1.8 billion and half the population will have myopia by 2050. The adoption, and achievement of the targets, will help ensure this does not happen.”

Describing the targets as “ambitious but achievable with national commitment and strong collective action,” Holland added, “What is critical now is for countries to implement the World Report on Vision and report their progress to the WHO.”

IAPB supporters, CooperVision Specialty EyeCare also welcomed the news, with head of commercial operations, Stuart Cockerill, commenting: “We applaud the World Health Assembly’s more aggressive targeting of refractive error and cataracts, which will help elevate awareness of, and action toward, pressing issues such as myopia progression in children.”