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The Viet Nam Child Eye Care (VNCEC) project, funded by the Seeing is Believing programme had set out its goal as: sustainable reduction of visual impairment in school children in Viet Nam. To achieve this goal, the project aims to improve the coordination between education and health sectors; strengthen capacity of school health staff and eye health personnel; increase accessibility of eye care services provided for children and enhance eye care awareness among children, teachers, parents and communities.
The General Deputy Director of General Department of Preventive Medicine – Ministry of Health (GDPM-MoH), has commented that the VNCEC project “has successfully created a good model to contribute to reduce refractive errors’ prevalence among school children in 3 project provinces. This is the model we wished to develop a long time ago but couldn’t implement until this project. The successful collaboration between the health and education sectors in the current project areas is a key success for wider replication in Viet Nam, later. Now, students and teachers are able to check their eyes anytime; they know how to check their eyes properly. So, this project is relevant, impactful and sustainable as assessed by the independent consultant”.
The VNCEC project created for the first time a cooperative project management structure (PMB) between education and health sectors that work well within Viet Nam’s existing policy and governance system. Therefore, collaboration between these two sectors was strengthened. This led to effective delivery of the school eye health programme for children. The school eye health programme included eye screenings, comprehensive examinations, free spectacles, subsidized eye surgery/treatment and IEC activities on eye care for school children.
The VNCEC project also scaled up the existing eye health workforce by providing clinical education to support district health staff in training to become ophthalmic nurses, refractionists and opticians. It also provided training on primary child eye care knowledge in order to strengthen the school staff capacity. School nurses, teachers and Youth Union staff play a key role in delivering school eye health activities.
A significant achievement of the VNCEC project is approval and nation-wide adoption of the National School Eye Health Guideline (by the GDPM-MoH). This Guideline clearly defined and standardized a framework for the implementation of eye health programmes at schools. This helps improve the quality of and increase access to eye care services for children.
One important lesson learnt from the VNCEC project is related to advocacy. The project intervention focused on uncorrected refractive error which was considered a ‘hot topic’ and concerned the community, schools, ministries and the government (point 1: choosing ‘hot’ and urgent advocacy topic). VNCEC project’s stakeholders include GDPM-MoH, Physical Education Department-Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) and other related departments of primary and secondary schools under MoET that helps to raise stronger voice to the Minister-policy decision maker (point 2: involve powerful stakeholders). The advocacy work needs to be based on an action plan with clear and certain achievements and a united, strong alliance (point 3 and point 4). The VNCEC project had a set of activities to form, develop, review, revise, finalize and submit the National School Eye Health Guidelines for approval at the end. The Fred Hollows Foundation Viet Nam team also allied with and supported by other NGOs working in eye care during this process.
Another project in Viet Nam as a replication of the VNCEC project to other target districts is currently ongoing. This project inherited the existing partnership which the PMB established as well as the strengthened collaboration between education and health sectors. Therefore, it hopes to achieve its objectives carrying on the model established by VNCEC.