World Health Day is a global health awareness day, celebrated on 7th April every year. It’s run by the World Health Organization (WHO), and each year highlights a key area of concern.

This year the theme is Universal Health coverage: everyone, everywhere, under the slogan and hashtag Health For All.

The message is simple: that everyone, everywhere should be able to access quality health services without facing financial hardship. WHO has carried out many studies which show that by investing in universal healthcare, countries not only improve individual lives but also protect against epidemics, reduce poverty and the risk of hunger, create jobs and drive economic growth, and enhance gender equality.

We’re lucky in the UK to have the NHS. The provision of free eye tests for the young, elderly and vulnerable ensures that as a nation, overall, we enjoy good eye health. We also have access to world-leading ophthalmic doctors and consultants, who lead the way in the management and prevention of eye diseases.

In other countries this is not the case. For example:

  • Around 253 million people across the world live with vision impairment, of who 36 million are blind and 217 million have moderate to severe impairment.
  • An estimated 19 million children are vision impaired. Of these, 12 million children have a vision impairment due to refractive error which could easily be corrected
  • Over 80% of all vision impairment can be prevented or cured. In many countries, un-operated cataract remains the leading cause of blindness.

Globally, eye health has improved and, since the 1990s, worldwide vision impairment has decreased. This can be attributed to economic development, the increased availability of eye care services and greater overall awareness of eye health. However, there is new concern that this trend could be reversed, as the global population both increases and ages.

WHO works tirelessly to improve global eye health and has made significant progress in preventing and curing vision impairment in many countries. Since 2013, their global action plan has aimed to achieve a reduction of 25% of avoidable visual impairments by 2019. Their work on this includes encouraging governments to establish national programmes to prevent and control vision impairment alongside campaigns to raise awareness about the importance of good eye health.

So, on World Health Day this year, we’re going to celebrate and support the work WHO does to promote universal health care. And we’re going to say a big thank you to our beloved NHS, who, under immense pressure, provide the elderly, young and most vulnerable in the UK with world-class, free to use, eye health care.