The staff entrance at the imposing United Nations building in New York became an eye clinic for a few hours last month.

The UN Friends of Vision group, with the support of Clearly and several other eye health bodies, staged a vision exhibition in the Secretariat Lobby.

Part of it was a vision screening event designed to attract staff as they entered and left the building. The screening was open to all those who work at the UN from Permanent Representatives to cleaners and chefs.

And what a success it was. OneSight and VisionSpring, along with America’s National Vision, delivered the sight tests, with four optometrists and 50 other team members working their socks off.

We had expected maybe 100 to 200 screenings. But by the end of a hectic session we had screened 500 UN staffers, a third of those in the building that day, and given prescriptions or reading glasses to those who needed them.

So great was the interest that there were long queues throughout the day and eventually we had to turn people away as time was running out.

All this tells us a couple of things. If screening is available, people will avail themselves of the opportunity; and the health system for residents of  the United States is not cheap! We were even asked if we could turn it into an annual event.

On top of all this, the crucial importance of having your eyes tested was underlined graphically.  One lady came to us complaining of a U shaped shadow on one of her eyes. The eye doctors in attendance swiftly diagnosed a torn retina and sent her to hospital.  Another lady came in telling us that she suffered from headaches when looking at her computer screen. She was given glasses and returned later to tell us she was ‘cured.’

Equally successful was another ‘Friends of Vision’ event – the UN launch of the WHO’s World Report on Vision, which was welcomed so eagerly by all of us working in this area. The Antigua and Barbuda mission hosted the launch and there was an important closing speech from Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, of Nigeria, the newly elected President of the UN General Assembly. Let’s hope he’s on our side when we push for a UN resolution on vision in the course of the next couple of years.

We were delighted that over 30 countries were represented including Permanent Representatives from Ireland, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Indonesia and Rwanda making contributions. Her Excellency Valentine Rugwabiza from Rwanda  spoke of her shock when hearing for the first time the number of people without access to vision correction. She confirmed her country’s commitment to focusing on eye health at next year’s Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Kigali.