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Beyond Awareness: Vision Must Be Included in the Development Conversation


As I started writing this blog, I searched the internet for the word Awareness. While I found some useful definitions, my attention was drawn to the images that came up as well. I saw lightbulbs and people shouting, my favorite being a brain filled with colors representing information.


While I’m no artist, I hoped for an image of dots being connected. After all, for those of us working daily to raise awareness about the benefits of good vision, if we are to be successful in our roles, we must help advocates connect dots so they can act. Our dots are the stories we tell our audiences, empowering them to take meaningful action on an issue.


But what if our stories don’t inspire action from everyone? What if movement on a topic requires a different perspective? In our work, would reframing the story create a greater priority for good vision?

Vision is most often considered a matter of health, and it makes sense that vision should be treated as a key aspect of our physical health. But what if elevating good vision as a priority means having to encourage a new focus from a different vantage point?

For instance, findings from the recent Lancet Global Health Commission on Global Eye Health Report, challenge us to think more broadly. The report states in its first recommendation:

“Eye health is essential to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals; vision needs to be reframed as a development issue.”

It goes on to say: “Improving eye health is a practical and cost-effective way of unlocking human potential. Eye health needs to be reframed as an enabling, cross-cutting issue within the sustainable development framework.”

Many organizations have already adopted this approach in their work. At the Vision Impact Institute, we emphasize the impact of poor vision and the benefits of good vision on several socially relevant issues. The challenge now is ensuring that those outside the vision sector understand that prioritizing vision can serve as a catalyst to improving a myriad of other development issues, including those already prioritized:


GENDER EQUITY

Fifty-five percent of people who suffer from vision loss are women and girls, according to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB). Today this issue is exacerbated by the fact that approximately 20 million secondary school-aged girls may never return to the classroom, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, if dropouts increase at the same rate. In many parts of the world, schools are access points for vision screenings. When girls are out of school, their vision suffers and the promise of a good education is compromised or lost entirely. That could translate to a loss of future earnings, as one additional year of schooling can result in up to a 12% wage increase. Our efforts to build awareness around vision barriers that women face, like stigmas and access to services and care, can go a long way to ensure that women and girls have an equal opportunity to achieve long-term success in life.

PRODUCTIVITY

Worker productivity is a popular topic right now with so many working remotely. Discussions are ongoing about what “return to work” will look like and how productivity levels can be sustained. As awareness-builders, we can play a role in the ongoing conversation about productivity.


New research estimates that, in 2020, the global annual productivity loss from vision impairment alone was US $410.7 billion. Just think of the economic impac