Asia and the Pacific Policy Society members are located all around the region in a wide range of roles. As part of our series profiling the work of some of our members ‘Five minutes with…’, Asia and the Pacific Policy Society member Damian Facciolo talks about his work with the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness and the challenge of managing non-communicable and chronic diseases in the region.
Tell us about your work for the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness?
Four out of five cases of blindness can be prevented and treated. Blindness and visual impairment can easily be avoided with more resources for cataract surgery, screening and spectacle programs and improved national planning. I manage advocacy work for the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), a global coalition of more than 120 NGOs, the private sector and research and training organisations. IAPB works in partnership with its member organisations and the World Health Organization to influence decision-makers, contribute to better policy, gather evidence and build networks.
What is the most interesting part of your job?
I manage a regional program that spans WHO’s Western Pacific region, taking in around a dozen countries of Asia, as well as smaller countries across the Pacific. Each country has very different strengths and challenges when it comes to eye health policy, so it can be hard to stay on top of developments across the region. But it’s also very exciting, I get to travel and work with highly skilled health workers and policymakers, many of whom have an infusive passion for better public health.
In 2013, member states at the World Health Assembly endorsed ‘Universal Eye Health: A Global Action Plan 2014-19’, a document which has renewed the momentum for blindness prevention and given health ministries globally a clearer target and a more tangible direction.
What do you think are the biggest policy challenges for eye health in Asia and the Pacific?
The biggest challenge region-wide is the management of non-communicable and chronic diseases. Many national health systems have evolved with a focus on infectious disease and health crises, and governments are now rethinking delivery approaches to provide ongoing care for ageing populations and chronic condition such as diabetes. Alarmingly, six of the top 10 countries for diabetes prevalence are Pacific Islands. This rethink will require long-term investments and thinking beyond clinical models for treatment with a focus on prevention, lifestyles and social determinants.
The good news is that many countries in Asia are building and expanding insurance and social protection programs and over time, many of the cost-related barriers – particularly for cataract surgery – will decrease. Countries like China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia are joining wealthier nations like Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and the Republic of Korea where cataract surgery is included in national health insurance schemes. Training has been a focus of activity for blindness prevention in the Western Pacific for many years, but work is still required to ensure doctors and nurses reach rural and marginalised communities, and sub-speciality training programs ensure more complicated eye conditions can be managed in the future.