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Advocating to help Vietnam have better access to eye health

Published: 31.03.2015

In late June I visited Vietnam to work together with Damian Facciolo, (Regional Program Manager, IAPB Western Pacific) to deliver an advocacy workshop in Hanoi, with support from Australian Aid.

During the workshop we discussed key problems and objectives. We worked to help NGOs on Vietnam’s Eye Care Partners Working Group to come up with some key messages to deliver to the Vice Minister for Health, Professor Nguyen Viet Tien who participated in the latter parts of the meeting. Representatives from the WHO Vietnam Country Office were very active in the workshop, as was the Vietnam National Institute of Ophthalmology (VNIO) who have worked hard over the past 12 months to draft a National Action Plan for Universal Eye Health. 

Earlier in the week, Prof Do Nhu Hon, the director of VNIO and an IAPB co-chair, brought us around Hanoi’s main eye hospital and impressive training facilities. We passed huge numbers of people as we walked around the different wards lining up to wait for treatment, receiving treatment, or recovering – almost 2000 people were being attended to that day, by the time we left in the afternoon, according to the visitor counter. 

During the morning of the workshop, I facilitated a problem-solution tree session, to help NGOs participating to consider the key eye health and vision problems in terms of how they impact on people in Vietnam, beginning with the end in mind. Participants from CBM, Orbis, Fred Hollows Foundation, Eye Care Foundation, Helen Keller International, Brien Holden Vision Institute, all highly knowledgeable and accustomed to working together, enthusiastically got stuck in developing their trees, to determine in some detail the causes, effects, solutions of these problems. We reached some important advocacy objectives and messages in a short time (Damian Facciolo’s presentation of these messages can be found here).

Progress is being made in Vietnam in response to the high prevalence of eye health conditions, cataract surgical rates are up, but there remain many problems, cataract surgery needs better quality control (Fred Hollows have produced a very useful monitoring tool which was presented in the meeting).  Further, there is a dire need for optometrists and many people are getting low quality refraction services. Brien Holden Vision Institute is working on a pilot degree program in optometry to be delivered at universities in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the first of its kind to be offered in Vietnam. Eye health is poorly integrated into primary health care and much more can be done to ensure accessibility for marginalised communities and persons with disabilities. 

Vietnam’s Vice Minister for Health, Professor Nguyen Viet Tien spoke very encouragingly about the government’s commitment to eye health. The approval of the Action Plan will be an important step on the way to fulfilling its aims.