Associate Professor at UKZN's Discipline of Optometry, former anti-apartheid activist, political prisoner and internationally celebrated public health leader, Professor Kovin Naidoo, recently returned from the Vatican in Rome where he was a guest speaker at a special session on blindness prevention.

Naidoo is also the Africa Chair of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) and Global Programmes Director of the International Centre for Eyecare Education (ICEE). 

Naidoo was privileged to be hosted by the Vatican which included reserved seating for an audience with the Pope.

His Excellency Zygmunt Zimowski, President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers and President of the Good Samaritan Foundation ( The Holy See), invited Naidoo to attend The Non-Sighted Person: Master, I See again (MK 10:51) conference held on 4/5 May. 

Also there were Professor Gullapalli (Nag) Rao, Chair of the ICEE, and Dr Serge Resnikoff, Senior Consultant for the Brien Holden Vision Institute. The conference was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Foundation -The Good Samaritan - in collaboration with CBM Italy Onlus.

The conference took place within the framework of the Good Samaritan Foundation which was instituted by Pope John Paul II with the aim of providing economic support to those most in need and, in particular, people afflicted by  HIV and AIDS, who ask for a gesture of support from the Church.

‘I felt truly honoured to be invited to attend a conference at the Vatican. I was also humbled to be invited by His Excellency Zygmunt Zimowski for what was an enlightening Conference – bringing science and religion together, discussing the main causes of avoidable blindness, and legislative requirements and models of prevention against avoidable blindness.’  

Naidoo said the conference was a boost for blindness prevention efforts as it clearly outlined the responsibility of the religious sector in this extremely important struggle to ensure that no human being was deprived of social, economic or educational opportunities because society failed them in preventing avoidable blindness or failed to guarantee them the appropriate rights when they become blind from unavoidable causes, said Naidoo.

The two-day Conference provided a forum which reflected on pastoral care of the blind and was an opportunity for speakers of theological-pastoral, medical-scientific, educational and social persuasions to outline practical approaches to the need for support and treatment of non-sighted people.  

The conference built on a framework of a theological theme with an 'analysis on the representation of the blind person in Holy Scripture and the Church's historic concern for people who are blind as well as the approach to blindness in other religions’. This was followed by contributions from industry experts on the scientific, social, political, economic and legislative requirements of the topic under consideration.

In addition to the technical and prevention aspects, Naidoo outlined some key considerations when global organisations engaged Africans and the rest of the developing world on the issue of spectacle provision stating that Africans had a right to dignity and quality care and as such programmes that forced inappropriate recycled spectacles and other such products on them should not be supported.
author email :