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International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness

International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness

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The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) is a coordinating, umbrella organization
Umbrella organization
An umbrella organization is an association of institutions, who work together formally to coordinate activities or pool resources. In business, political, or other environments, one group, the umbrella organization, provides resources and often an identity to the smaller organizations...

 to lead an international effort in mobilizing resources for blindness prevention activities. It was set up on January 1, 1975, by the late Sir John Wilson
John Foster Wilson
Sir John Foster Wilson CBE was a public health advocate, best known for working to prevent blindness in developing countries in Africa and South and South East Asia....

, the Founder President. The founding members were the World Blind Union
World Blind Union
The World Blind Union is an organisation of blind and partially sighted persons of the world, representing 180 million blind and visually impaired persons from about 600 different organisations in 158 countries....

, and the International Federation of Ophthalmological Societies (now the International Council of Ophthalmology).


IAPB aspires to link professional bodies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), educational institutions, and interested individuals, with national programmes for the prevention of blindness.

According to the WHO
Who may refer to:* Who , an English-language pronoun* who , a Unix command* Who?, one of the Five Ws in journalism- Art and entertainment :* Who? , a 1958 novel by Algis Budrys...

, more than 161 million people were visually impaired
Visual impairment
Visual impairment is vision loss to such a degree as to qualify as an additional support need through a significant limitation of visual capability resulting from either disease, trauma, or congenital or degenerative conditions that cannot be corrected by conventional means, such as refractive...

, of whom 124 million people had low vision
Low vision
Low vision is a subspecialty within the professions of optometry and ophthalmology dealing with individuals who have reduced vision even when using the best possible spectacle or contact lens correction available. It can be a result of either congenital disease Low vision is a subspecialty within...

 and 37 million were blind
Blindness is the condition of lacking visual perception due to physiological or neurological factors.Various scales have been developed to describe the extent of vision loss and define blindness...

 all over the world in 2002 http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs282/en/ http://www.iapb.org/why_iapb.htm. It has been estimated that the number of blind people will rise to 76 million by 2020. Close to 75% of this blindness is avoidable. The treatment of cataract
A cataract is a clouding that develops in the crystalline lens of the eye or in its envelope, varying in degree from slight to complete opacity and obstructing the passage of light...

s, which accounts for nearly half of all blindness, is one of the most cost-effective health interventions known.

In their study on the magnitude and cost of global blindness, Frick and Foster calculate that successful implementation of VISION 2020 would lead to the prevention of 429 blind-person years (defined as "one year of blindness for an individual"). This will have a dramatic effect on the lives of millions of people — those with blindness, as well as their caregivers.

The first major achievement of IAPB was the establishment of the WHO Programme for Prevention of Blindness (WHO/PBL), with which, it then entered into an official relationship.


In the early 1980s, a group of Non-Governmental Development Organisations (NGDO) involved in eye care began to meet informally, as the "Partnership Committee". This group met annually to exchange information, and discuss priorities in the prevention of blindness and eye care, as well as, education and rehabilitation
Rehabilitation (neuropsychology)
Rehabilitation of sensory and cognitive function typically involves methods for retraining neural pathways or training new neural pathways to regain or improve neurocognitive functioning that has been diminished by disease or traumatic injury....

 of blind, and visually impaired people.

In order to formalise a collaboration between the International NGDO community and WHO
Who may refer to:* Who , an English-language pronoun* who , a Unix command* Who?, one of the Five Ws in journalism- Art and entertainment :* Who? , a 1958 novel by Algis Budrys...

/PBL, the Consultative Group was formed, an elected body of 10 NGDOs from the Partnership Committee. The Consultative Group met every two years with WHO/PBL, from 1986 to 1994. This body made important contributions to strategies for preventing blindness, but it was limited in what it could achieve due to a lack of designated funding.

In 1994, at the Fifth IAPB General Assembly in Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

, the Consultative Group was replaced by a "Task Force for Prevention of Blindness". The founder members were CBM International, and Sight Savers International, who were soon joined by Helen Keller International, and Orbis International. During the period 1996 to 1998, through a series of consultations between the Programme Advisory Group (PAG) of WHO, the Partnership Committee, and the Task Force, the document, "Global Initiative for the Elimination of Avoidable Blindness", was developed and adopted. The document sets out priorities and strategies to eliminate avoidable blindness.

VISION 2020: The Right to Sight

The Task Force was integrated within IAPB, becoming the "Task Force of IAPB", and a Memorandum of Understanding
Memorandum of understanding
A memorandum of understanding is a document describing a bilateral or multilateral agreement between parties. It expresses a convergence of will between the parties, indicating an intended common line of action. It is often used in cases where parties either do not imply a legal commitment or in...

 to implement the "Global Initiative to Eliminate Avoidable Blindness" was signed between IAPB and WHO. Under their joint auspices, "VISION 2020: The Right to Sight", was officially launched by Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland
Gro Harlem Brundtland
Gro Harlem Brundtland is a Norwegian Social democratic politician, diplomat, and physician, and an international leader in sustainable development and public health. She served three terms as Prime Minister of Norway , and has served as the Director General of the World Health Organization...

, Director-General of WHO in Geneva
Geneva In the national languages of Switzerland the city is known as Genf , Ginevra and Genevra is the second-most-populous city in Switzerland and is the most populous city of Romandie, the French-speaking part of Switzerland...

 on February 18, 1999, and further promoted by IAPB at the Sixth Assembly in Beijing
Beijing , also known as Peking , is the capital of the People's Republic of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of 19,612,368 as of 2010. The city is the country's political, cultural, and educational center, and home to the headquarters for most of China's...

, in September 1999. Following the launch of VISION 2020, the Task Force increased in membership, and in 2000, it was decided to hold joint-meetings of the IAPB Executive Committee and the Task Force, chaired by the President of IAPB.

Since the launch of VISION 2020, a major concerted international effort is being made in areas such as advocacy
Advocacy is a political process by an individual or a large group which normally aims to influence public-policy and resource allocation decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions; it may be motivated from moral, ethical or faith principles or simply to protect an...

, resource mobilisation, joint-planning, strengthening national capacities through human resource development, and the transfer of appropriate technologies to developing countries. Global technical plans were developed, highlighting the priority areas that need to be addressed in each region, and the proposed strategies to reach the goals of VISION 2020 in these regions.

Complementing the technical plans, a business plan was developed to raise funds and implement the programme. Regional and national workshops, and launch events in WHO/IAPB regions, have been and are being organised to raise awareness of blindness prevention. Plans for prevention of blindness have also been developed at both national and district level. A conservative estimate of the productivity gain from VISION 2020 is $102 billion over the 20-year period. The costs of many of the interventions that form the VISION 2020 initiative are relatively modest, particularly for public health interventions, such as the distribution of Vitamin A
Vitamin A
Vitamin A is a vitamin that is needed by the retina of the eye in the form of a specific metabolite, the light-absorbing molecule retinal, that is necessary for both low-light and color vision...

 capsules, and Mectizan for onchocerciasis
Onchocerciasis , also known as river blindness and Robles' disease, is a parasitic disease caused by infection by Onchocerca volvulus, a nematode . Onchocerciasis is the world's second-leading infectious cause of blindness. It is not the nematode, but its endosymbiont, Wolbachia pipientis, that...


The World Sight Day, initiated by the SightFirst Campaign of Lions Club International Foundation, was integrated into VISION 2020, and is being held on the second Thursday of October, every year, since 2000. The World Sight Day has proved to be an effective advocacy and awareness tool.

In May 2003, the 56th World Health Assembly of Ministers adopted a "Resolution on Elimination of Avoidable Blindness", which calls on all member states to prepare VISION 2020 plans by 2005. Further, member states are to establish national coordinating committees, which are to start implementing the national plans by 2007, and to report back in 2010. The Ministers proposed a Monitoring Committee to oversee the programme. The resolution also supports the mobilization of resources to ensure a successful program. In response to the Resolution, a VISION 2020 Tool Kit has been developed to provide guidance and support for Governments and health professionals.

New developments

All these developments have necessitated revisions in the structure and governance of the IAPB, as laid down in the current constitution. A Constitutional Review Committee was set up in 2002 with Dr. Pararajasegaram, as Chair, to amend the Constitution, incorporating the opinions of stakeholders. As well as modifications in terminology
Terminology is the study of terms and their use. Terms are words and compound words that in specific contexts are given specific meanings, meanings that may deviate from the meaning the same words have in other contexts and in everyday language. The discipline Terminology studies among other...

 and structure, the new Constitution was aligned with the Charity Law in UK
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, where IAPB is now incorporated. The new Constitution was ratified by the Seventh General Assembly of IAPB in Dubai
Dubai is a city and emirate in the United Arab Emirates . The emirate is located south of the Persian Gulf on the Arabian Peninsula and has the largest population with the second-largest land territory by area of all the emirates, after Abu Dhabi...

, in September 2004.

The WHO released new data on the prevalence of global blindness in late 2004. According to the new figures, in 2002, 161 million people were visually impaired, of whom 124 million people had low vision, and 37 million were blind. Cataract (47.8%) continues to be a major cause for global blindness, especially in the developing countries. Glaucoma
Glaucoma is an eye disorder in which the optic nerve suffers damage, permanently damaging vision in the affected eye and progressing to complete blindness if untreated. It is often, but not always, associated with increased pressure of the fluid in the eye...

 (12.3%), age-related macular degeneration
Macular degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration is a medical condition which usually affects older adults and results in a loss of vision in the center of the visual field because of damage to the retina. It occurs in “dry” and “wet” forms. It is a major cause of blindness and visual impairment in older adults...

 (8.7%) and diabetic retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy is retinopathy caused by complications of diabetes mellitus, which can eventually lead to blindness....

 (4.8%), along with cataract, account for close to 75% of all blindness in the world. Taking into account the changes in world population over the past 12 years, the magnitude of blindness in 2002 appears to be lower than was projected — 37 million, instead of the projected 52 million. These figures seem to indicate early success for VISION 2020, but also continue to highlight the challenge of achieving the VISION 2020 goal of eliminating avoidable blindness.

See also

  • Iris Fund for Prevention of Blindness
  • International Resources for the Improvement of Sight
    International Resources for the Improvement of Sight
    International Resources for the Improvement of Sight is a small, independent, charity, founded in 1996 by Michele Claudel and John Stewart. It specializes in prevention of blindness and restoration of sight...

  • Seeing is Believing (organization)
    Seeing is Believing (organization)
    Seeing is Believing is a global initiative to tackle avoidable blindness. SiB is a partnership between Standard Chartered Bank PLC and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness ....