Vietnam’s Prime Minister approved the National Strategy for Prevention of Blindness to 2020, with a Vision to 2030 at the end of 2016. With the Prime Minister’s high-level endorsement, the strategy provides a long-term vision that will raise the importance of eye health in the context of health and development in Vietnam. It calls on provincial authorities and several ministries – not just the health ministry – to work together and expand and improve services to prevent and treat the main causes of blindness.
The strategy includes four reduction and access targets on prevalence, cataract, refractive error and diabetic eye disease for the period until 2020. The strategy includes additional measures with a vision to 2030, and references low vision, glaucoma, school health care, workplace injuries and childhood blindness as areas for action. Section 2 of the strategy focuses on policy and calls for the research, development and improvement of regulations and coordination mechanisms.
Discussion on a new comprehensive national plan for eye health for Vietnam began in 2013, and advocacy coordinated by IAPB led to a series of consultation workshops convened by the Vietnam National Institute of Ophthalmology with the Ministry of Health in Hanoi, Haiphong, Danang and Ho Chi Minh City. Provincial health officials and NGO representatives took an active role in consultation and advocacy, and common positions and values were quickly identified.
Two years ago, stakeholders decided instead to develop a higher-level strategy document that would engage a wider, multisectoral response. While the process took longer than expected and the approved strategy looks very different to the original plan, the outcome is far greater. The strategy reflects good examples of both leadership and advocacy.
Vietnam has made commendable strides to improve eye health over the last few decades. University-level courses in optometry have commenced, the national cataract surgical rate has increased to more than 2000, health insurance has reduced many out-of pocket health costs and Vietnam is close to eliminating trachoma as a public health problem. Most importantly, Vietnam’s economic development has been remarkable.
Cooperation and partnership are key to Vietnam’s success in blindness prevention, now and in the future. The Government of Vietnam leads a strong, nation-wide public health service with primary health centres, clinics and hospitals. NGOs, donors and a growing private sector work closely with the public health system to support training and service delivery, and improve quality. Eye health partners in Vietnam meet regularly to coordinate action, determine priorities and deepen collaborations.
The strategy follows findings from a Rapid Assessment of Avoidable Blindness (RAAB) carried out in Vietnam in 2015. The RAAB found that while surgical volumes have increased, the cataract backlog remains a problem. Surgical outcomes and access for women were also identified as areas for improvement in the final report.
Photo Credit: David de Wit for the #StrongerTogether photo competition