United Nations Ambassadors and Global NGOs Dine in the Dark at the UN, Calling for Action as New WHO Vision Report Predicts Skyrocketing Vision Loss Tied to 21st Century Population Aging

Celebrity chef Christine Hà leads guests in for the first-ever Dine in the Dark United Nations (Photo: Global Coalition on Aging / Jenna Salvagin)

The immersive dining experience featured a menu curated by Christine Hà, the first-ever blind contestant and winner of FOX’s MasterChef

New York, NEW YORK (October 25, 2019) – On Wednesday night, the Global Coalition on Aging (GCOA), the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), and the Permanent Mission of Antigua and Barbuda to the United Nations, along with three leading organizations addressing vision loss, brought together more than 60 United Nations (UN) ambassadors and leaders from global nongovernmental organizations for an immersive dining experience directly connecting the growing numbers of people who are visually impaired with the 21st century megatrend of aging. Drawing on the newly released World Health Organization (WHO) World report on vision, the organizers called for urgent and immediate actions to prevent skyrocketing rates of visual impairment and vision loss as we age, the vast majority of which is avoidable with screening, treatment, and access to quality care.

Guests at the dinner wore blindfolds for the entire meal, only learning the menu at the close of the evening. The menu was specially curated by American celebrity chef Christine Hà. During the dinner, Hà addressed the ambassadors about her personal experience as a busy professional in a sighted world. She began her cooking career after being diagnosed with a central nervous system disorder that resulted in almost complete loss of vision. Known as “The Blind Cook,” Hà is now an esteemed chef, author, restauranteur, and winner of MasterChef season three.

“The Dine in the Dark experience puts sighted people in our shoes and makes them aware of the types of challenges we come across on a daily basis,” explained Hà. “At the United Nations, ambassadors and other global decision-makers gained a first-hand appreciation of our sense of sight and what we can and should be doing to promote eye health for all.”

Dine in the Dark UN established important linkages between major policy initiatives currently shaping the global health and economic agendas. Taking place immediately following the release in Geneva of the WHO’s first-ever vision report, Dine in the Dark UN served as the pre-launch for a series of planned events around the report’s official release at the UN in November.

“Building on the success of Dine in the Dark events around the world, it is absolutely fitting that we now bring Dine in the Dark to the UN, particularly on the heels of the WHO’s new World report on vision, and as the UN itself prepares for the WHO declaration of the Decade of Healthy Ageing from 2020-2030,” explained Ambassador W. Aubrey Webson, the Permanent Representative of Antigua and Barbuda to the UN, Chair of the UN Friends of Vision Group, and one of the principal hosts of the event. “Vision loss can impact every stage of life and in the case of older adults can contribute to social isolation, a higher risk of falls and fractures and a greater likelihood of early entry into nursing or care homes. At the UN, we have a clear mandate, through the Sustainable Development Goals and our work towards achieving Universal Health Coverage, to ensure that eye health is accessible for all people, everywhere, at every age.”

Michael Hodin, CEO of the Global Coalition on Aging and one of the hosts of Dine in the Dark United Nations (Photo: Global Coalition on Aging / Jenna Salvagin)

“That 2 billion will be over age 60 by mid-century and aging is identified in the new WHO report as the primary risk factor leading to visual impairment should be a clear call to action for all of us,” said Michael Hodin, CEO of the Global Coalition on Aging. “The costs for individuals, for societies, and our economies stemming from vision loss – most of which is preventable – are too great for us to ignore. Further linking to the Decade of Healthy Ageing and goals for independence, functional ability, and healthier aging, addressing vision loss must be central to health and economic policy alike,” said Hodin.

At the event, the hosts, which included the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), Lighthouse Guild, and the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI), in addition to GCOA, UN DESA, and Antigua and Barbuda, sounded a call to action to support a life course of healthy vision for all:

  1. Vision loss is not just a normal part of aging. It is largely preventable. We need more investment to support a life course of healthy vision for all, recognizing that investment now generates savings into the future.
  2. The numbers of people who are blind and visually impaired will skyrocket, as the prevalence of visual impairment and vision loss increase with age. Without significant action, we will be faced with unsustainable health and care costs for countries.
  3. Integrated people-centered eye care – including better monitoring, early detection, diagnosis, and treatment – should be embedded within all countries’ Universal Health Coverage (UHC) goals, no matter where they are in their progress toward achieving UHC.
  4. We must establish and sustain a supportive environment for continued innovation in people-centered eye-care treatment and supportive technologies for earlier and better detection and diagnosis.
  5. We must invest and train the eye care and general health workforce based on quality and competence to ensure that workers across the care ecosystem can provide screening, prevention, and specialty care to meet the needs of aging societies.
  6. We must commit to supporting age-friendly and disability-friendly cities and communities that are accessible for those of all ages and abilities.

Dine in the Dark United Nations was made possible by contributions from Novartis as a member of GCOA. “We are proud to contribute to this event,” said Victor Bulto, Head of U.S. Pharma at Novartis. “And we’re excited to bring together these essential players to address urgent unmet needs in the treatment and prevention of vision impairment and blindness.”

About DESA

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) is a vital interface between global policies and national action in the economic, social and environmental spheres. Rooted in the United Nations Charter and guided by the universal and transformative 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and other global agreements, DESA responds to the needs and priorities of the global community. DESA houses the Programme on Ageing, which is the focal point on ageing in the United Nations system. www.un.org/desa. @UNDESA @UN4Ageing

About the Permanent Mission of Antigua and Barbuda to the UN

Antigua and Barbuda is the second smallest member of the United Nations family within the Caribbean and one of the smallest nations of the global community. Despite its small size, the Antigua and Barbuda Permanent Mission at the United Nations is a very active player in several important issues that have global impact. The Antigua and Barbuda Permanent Mission has provided leadership on matters of climate change, environment concerns for small states, universal health, financial and developmental challenges faced by small states in the definition of their international classification as middle-income states and denying them access to favorable financial conditions despite their vulnerability. Most recently, Antigua and Barbuda has led the discussion on the dangers of de-risking or correspondent banking to small island developing countries and states in Africa.

Antigua and Barbuda is a strong and active member in defense of the multilateral system and the work of the United Nations development agencies. Its Permanent Representative and Ambassador to the United Nations, Ambassador Webson, has recently reached out to the global community and founded the “Friends of Vision” at the United Nations and has given new impetus to the attention to eye health as an emerging global challenge.

About IAPB

The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) is the membership alliance leading international efforts in eye health activities. IAPB’s mission is to achieve universal access to eye health by bringing together governments and NGOs to facilitate the planning, development and implementation of sustainable national eye care programmes. Please visit: www.iapb.org

About Lighthouse Guild

Lighthouse Guild is the leading organization dedicated to addressing and preventing vision loss. We provide coordinated care for eye health, vision rehabilitation and behavioral health as well as related services directed at prevention, early detection and intervention of vision disorders. Our comprehensive approach helps people achieve and maintain the highest level of function and independence. Reducing the burdens of vision loss is the cornerstone of what we do. For more information, visit lighthouseguild.org

About NCBI

National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) is Ireland’s national sight loss organization, working with over 6,300 people with sight loss annually. We provide nationwide services such as practical and emotional support, rehabilitation services and other training designed to help people with sight loss to live independently and confidently. We also have a chain of over 115 charity shops that provide vital funds to ensure the delivery of our frontline services.

 

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