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Investing in Vision Launch speech

May 2, 2013

Speech (check against delivery)

2 May 2013

A little over a year ago, on my first overseas visit as Foreign Minister, I visited an eye hospital in Cambodia run by the Fred Hollows Foundation.

In Siem Reap I met medical staff trained by the Foundation and I met Cambodian villagers – mostly older men and women – whose sight had been restored through a fast, precise and relatively low-cost procedure.

I’ll never forget the expressions of sheer joy on the faces of these people who could see again… the revelation as their bandages came off.

And I learned of one other benefit that comes from restoring vision: after the surgery occurs, the carers of the blind and partially blind – mostly women and girls – are liberated so they can go to school or out to work.

It’s a powerful link and it underscores the importance of taking further action to eliminate avoidable blindness.

This gathering knows well the global extent of the challenge.

World Health Organization data confirms:

– There are more than 285 million people affected by vision impairment and blindness
– 90 per cent live in developing countries with limited health services
– Almost two thirds of those affected live in the Asia Pacific region (63% or 180 million people)

But the statistic that stands out is this: 80 per cent of visual impairment and blindness is avoidable.

And it’s this fact that spurs on groups like the Fred Hollows Foundation, the Queens Diamond Jubilee Trust and others to tackle avoidable blindness.

It is my great pleasure to launch Investing in Vision – a series of four reports on avoidable blindness.

The reports are the result of collaboration between two respected organisations:

• the Fred Hollows Foundation – one of Australia’s leading eye health organisations, who have helped to reduce the cost of cataract surgery to $25 in some developing countries; and
• PriceWaterhouseCoopers – one of the leading economic consultancies.

Accurate and reliable data on eye health in developing countries is often scarce.

There are gaps in information needed by those who deliver eye health programs worldwide so that they can better reach those most in need with the right treatment.

The Investing in Vision reports help to fill those gaps and will help support global efforts to achieve the Vision 2020 goal of eliminating avoidable blindness by the year 2020.


Compelling Evidence


The reports provide compelling evidence of the cost-effectiveness and economic returns on tackling avoidable blindness.

PwC estimates that expenditure of $128 billion (US) over 10 years could eliminate avoidable blindness in developing countries.

This, the reports say would contribute to economic and health benefits of around $517 billion (US) over the same period.

This means for every dollar invested in eliminating avoidable blindness, an extra four dollars will be generated in economic benefits.


Commitment to tackling avoidable blindness


As Foreign Minister – since that first visit to the eye hospital in Cambodia last year – I have taken a personal interest in avoidable blindness.

I’ve visited facilities and patients elsewhere in Asia – most recently in Laos in February and I met with the President and Chairman of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) Bob McMullan in London earlier this year.

This is an area of specialisation where Australians excel, where we are making a real difference to people’s lives and to community prosperity in our region.

Since 2008, the Government has committed more than $85 million to help countries in our region tackle avoidable blindness.

And we’ve worked in partnership with organisations like the Fred Hollows Foundation, the Vision 2020 Australia Global Consortium and our partner governments in the region.

In that time, we’ve worked together to deliver:

• more than 400,000 vision screenings;
• 27,000 sight-restoring surgeries; and
• training for more than 9,000 eye health workers.

These are great contributions and naturally I’d like to see the Australian Government and Australian organisations doing more.

That’s why I’m pleased to announce:

• Fred Hollows Foundation will receive $750,000 to expand its efforts in Laos over the next two years.

This is part of the support package I announced in February when I visited the Vientiane Ophthalmology Centre.

It will deliver primary eye care; training for nurses, eye doctors and ophthalmologists, as well as provide equipment for eye testing and surgery.

I am also pleased to announce:

• The Brien Holden Vision Institute Foundation and Sight for All Limited will receive $254,000 to support the professional development and eye health skills of 20 people from across the region [in Laos, Myanmar, India, Pakistan, Cambodia, PNG, Fiji and Vietnam].

This is part of the latest round of Australia Awards Fellowships, which provide opportunities for people from developing countries to undertake study, research and professional development in Australia.

Again, I would like to congratulate the Fred Hollows Foundation and PriceWaterhouseCoopers for the research effort that has gone into Investing in Vision.

The reports will help to guide the work that is essential to achieving the admirable goal of eliminating avoidable blindness by 2020.

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