How do you assess the current health situation in the poorest countries of the world? And in the field of eye health?
The data is still frightening, especially since most cases of blindness and visual impairment that exist are preventable and avoidable. Africa, especially the eastern half of the continent, and Asia are suffering a considerable grievance that has dragged on for a long time, especially since the problems of malnutrition are not resolved yet. Needless to say that in the child population, these problems are even more significant, compromising the immunity and healthy development of millions of children. This global alarm adds itself to the lack of adequate health coverage for millions of people, problems that in the Western world we seem to have overcome and where perhaps we have entered into some amnesia or inhibition of all what remains to be done. We must promote the global and integral vision of the aspects of human health, linking them to the just development of nations, the balance of resources and the guarantee of access to basic needs for the entire population. Steps have been taken, but not enough.
2/3 of the blind people in the world are women and girls. What should be done to alleviate this situation?
Fortunately, for a few years, there has been careful monitoring of the problems that visual impairment represents in the world, and especially in the most affected countries, which are those that are in development. Without a doubt, we must prioritize interventions, and make use of the essential tools at our disposal, such as the ambitious Action Plan of the World Health Organization, which, with the 2019 milestone, has boosted many actions. Everything that happens regarding ocular health is being monitored, technical support is offered to the different States, policy evaluation is being done, etc. We must have an optimistic approach because there are positive features, the massive mobilization in public health of recent decades has made possible to regress eye diseases attributable to infectious disease significantly.
Is the Barcelona population aware of the situation of avoidable blindness in the world? What’s left to do?
The City Council of Barcelona wants to make it very clear, as founding patron of Eyes of the world. With the commitment that implies, knowing that the Administration can act as speaker and facilitator of projects. We want to be with the associations, and the people mobilized to help. There will always be the need to promote new projects and make current ones sustainable. And the contributions of funds and donations and legacies of individuals and companies will always be welcome.
As a healthcare professional, do you think that this is a solidarity sector?
I am convinced that the health sector is very supportive because it is formed by professionals with a great vocational component, who in their usual work are used to placing the person at the center of their actions, with many elements of ethical and humanistic commitment.
What is being done by the Barcelona City Council to improve health systems in the poorest countries?
We know that the way to reach a goal like this goes through our entities. They have the experience and knowledge of what is fair according to each circumstance, depending on each context and geographical area. Recall that in Barcelona we have organizations with a very long history in this field. And let us also remember the importance that religious orders have had to contribute to this solidarity among peoples. We will always be next to the entities and associations. They have the door permanently open to the Health Delegation of our City Council.
It must be said that from the municipality we have resources for international cooperation and that it is often the municipal employees themselves who set the example and run campaigns and cooperation programs with developing countries. Many times it is not necessary that the interventions are strictly about health; building infrastructures, facilitate communications, etc. can be the levers so that health workers and health educators can carry out their work and end up being successful in their initiatives.
After this time on the Board, how do you value the work of the Foundation?
Throughout these years that I have been part of the Board of Trustees, I have been able to verify in first person the valuable task that Eyes of the world does. With its work, it has contributed to improve eye health and restore vision to many people without resources, and we know that preventing blindness and recovering sight is recovering life.
What attracts you most about the work of Eyes of the world and what would you highlight?
The professionalism and success of their initiatives, and the care when projecting them and choosing the objective of the interventions. The fact that it has brought us closer to two continents such as Africa and Latin America, both plural and rich, and with so many needs but so much hidden human talent. And thirdly, the concern to train the professionals of each area, as well as to accompany it with the necessary technology, which should make possible to solve many health problems that in the developed world may seem minor, but without the required equipment become a focus of disease and disability for people.
Would you like to send a message to the volunteers, donors, and collaborators of Eyes of the world who read this interview?
Yes, to all of them. Starting with volunteers, who do not only give their time and effort but in all calls and initiatives put a level of excellence. It is convenient that we say it: Eyes of the world is an example of well-done solidarity work among equals. To the donors, to keep persevering, and to never stop the positive and virtuous circle that is capable of materializing initiatives at a global level, with international repercussion, whatever is the destiny of the cooperative efforts. Their gesture makes citizenship, so we have to recognize it, and be able to give them what they expect: in transparency, in providing social value to their decision to collaborate, etc. To the collaborators, I am convinced that they have found the work of their lives, because they show great motivation to work harder and harder, knowing that their drive is contributing to a better world.