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On 20 January, the World Health Organisation's (WHO) executive board unanimously agreed that work should now start on drawing up a new Action plan on avoidable blindness and visual impairment to cover the period 2014-19. In 2003 the World Health Assembly resolution WHA56.26 first recognised the fact that, at the time, 45 million people in the world were blind and that a further 135 million people were visually impaired. The current action plan, adopted in 2009, expires in 2013.
It is hoped that the new action plan will be formally approved by the World Health Assembly - which represents all 194 WHO Member States - at its meeting next year in May 2013.
Australia's response to the World Health Assembly resolution, WHA56.26, was to develop the National framework for action to promote eye health and prevent avoidable blindness and vision loss. The framework provided a blueprint for nationally coordinated action by governments, health professionals, non-government organisations, industry and individuals to work in partnership.
In 2006-07 the Australian government provided $13.8 million over four years to promote eye health and strengthen service care delivery and, in 2009-10, $58.3 million over four years to expand eye and ear health services for Indigenous Australians.
Commenting after the executive board debate, Christian Garms, President of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), said:
‘This is an excellent outcome. We are grateful to the board for this decision. In unanimously endorsing the need for a new action plan, the board has reaffirmed the importance of addressing avoidable blindness and visual impairment which is needlessly blighting the lives of millions of people. This new action plan will provide a solid platform from which to continue to work towards the objectives of Vision 2020: the right to sight.'
In Australia, almost 575,000 people are blind or vision impaired. As Australia's population ages, this figure is predicted to rise to almost 801,000 by 2020. A new action plan supports Australia's continued progress towards the goal to eliminate the almost 75 per cent of vision loss that is preventable or treatable.