In Vietnam, two million people live with vision impairment, according to the Vietnam National Institute of Ophthalmology (VNIO) in 2019. Many of these live in mountainous and remote areas and are unable to access eye care services to improve their eye health and vision. Cataracts, uncorrected refractive errors, and retinal diseases are among the leading causes of blindness and vision loss in the country.
Orbis in Vietnam
Orbis International, a global eye care nonprofit with established programs in Vietnam, has been a pioneer in the prevention and treatment of avoidable blindness and vision loss for over four decades. Orbis transforms lives by delivering the skills, resources, and knowledge needed to provide accessible quality eye care.
Saving sight in Lai Chau province
In early August 2023, Orbis collaborated with local partners in Lai Chau province to officially kick off a 15-month project named “Creating eye care demand by enhancing staff capacity and awareness raising among ethnic minority population in Lai Chau province, Vietnam”, with funding from the XOVA Vision Awards.
The province currently has only 26 trained eye doctors and nurses and most are located in one centralized area at the Provincial General Hospital and District Health Centers. At the community level, there are 106 health communes each manned by one health care worker, none of which have received any training on primary eye care. Moreover, awareness and understanding of the importance of eye health at the community level is very low.
“This project aims to strengthen eye care management capacity of the existing community health partners in Lai Chau province and to raise awareness about eye care among the ethnic minority population”, said Dr. Nguyen Thi Hue, Orbis’s Senior Program Manager.
Primary eye care training has been overlooked in the past few years due to lack of government resources. Under this project, Orbis will provide training on primary eye care for 220 community health workers in seven districts and one city of Lai Chau province. These trained health workers will then carry out outreach campaigns in their own communities to detect eye diseases for treatment or referral. As a part of the project, Orbis provides refraction equipment to the district health centers to support the vision screening and refraction examination work across the province. Communications materials and campaigns are also developed and organized to help raise community awareness on common eye issues and drive their behavior change for good practice to protect their eye health.
Nguyen Duc Phong, a community health worker who recently participated in an outreach campaign in Tam Duong district, Lai Chau province shared, “I had the opportunity to join a training course on primary eye care provided under the project, through which I acquired the knowledge needed to boost my confidence in performing vision screening and consultation for the community. The outreach campaign like this is a great occasion for local people to have their eyes checked and be educated on how to take care of their eyes.”.
The outreach campaigns are also aimed to screen cataract cases in the community. At least 400 cataract patients will receive free surgeries with the support from Orbis between October and December 2023. Ms. Chu is on the waiting list for the surgery. “I hope the surgery will help me see better so that I don’t become a burden for my family,” added Chu.