Blindness and visual impairment have far-reaching implications for society, the more so when it is realized that 80% of visual disability is avoidable. The marked increase in the size of the elderly population, with their greater propensity for visually disabling conditions, presents a further challenge in this respect. However, if available knowledge and skills were made accessible to those communities in greatest need, much of this needless blindness could be alleviated. Since its inception over 50 years ago, and beginning with trachoma control, WHO has spearheaded efforts to assist Member States to meet the challenge of needless blindness. Since the establishment of the WHO Programme for the Prevention of Blindness in 1978, vast strides have been made through various forms of technical support to establish national prevention of blindness programmes. A more recent initiative, "The Global Initiative for the Elimination of Avoidable Blindness" (referred to as "VISION 2020--The Right to Sight"), launched in 1999, is a collaborative effort between WHO and a number of international nongovernmental organizations and other interested partners. This effort is poised to take the steps necessary to achieve the goal of eliminating avoidable blindness worldwide by the year 2020.