Previously closed to the world, much of Myanmar is yet to be touched by western influence. This makes for a wonderfully traditional and unusual place. While its history is tumultuous, the country is gradually making improvements and returning to the world from its former isolation.
A brief introduction to Myanmar
From 1962 to 2011, Myanmar was run by a military dictatorship. Since then, the country has made tentative steps towards democracy and greater openness, meaning significant progress and improvements for its people.
Myanmar’s slow economic growth means much of its environment and ecosystems have been preserved. Forests, including dense tropical-growth and teak, cover over 49% of the country – a unique statistic today.
The income gap in Myanmar is among the widest in the world, and the country is one of Asia’s poorest countries. After years of neglect, the eye health sector is weak – and avoidable blindness is one of the key health challenges facing the country. There’s a lot The Foundation can do to support the eye health situation in Myanmar.
What are the eye health problems?
Of an estimated population of 51 million, around seven in ten people live in rural or remote regions or on the fringes of major urban centres. The rate of blindness is most pressing in these areas. Cataract is the main cause of sight loss, accounting for 64% of blindness. Other causes include glaucoma and trachoma.
In 2000, the backlog of people needing cataract surgery was 300,000 cases. However, Myanmar has only recently been able to keep up with the annual numbers of new cases. This means the amount of backlog surgeries will be more overwhelming today than it was fifteen years ago.
Blindness isn’t a top priority for the government, and while health care is supposed to be free, in reality people have to pay for medicine and treatment, even in public clinics and hospitals. Many people suffering from avoidable blindness don’t realise their condition is preventable or treatable, so community education is key.
Fewer than half the ophthalmologists in Myanmar perform surgery, and over 50% confine their practice to the big cities where many people can afford to pay the out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. Away from these main centres, there is roughly one ophthalmologist for every 500,000 people, and eye health screening and treatment for children and adults is far from comprehensive or streamlined.
The Foundation’s programs in Myanmar
In partnership with Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology of Nepal and its director, Dr Sanduk Ruit
, The Foundation is working with local staff to transform Myanmar’s main eye hospital, in Yangon, into a centre of excellence and to deliver high-volume, high-quality eye surgery to people living with avoidable blindness in all parts of the country.
In the future, we will expand our work to give direct support to the Ministry of Health (MoH) towards eliminating avoidable blindness by addressing the following objectives:
- Generate resources and start a national survey of people aged 50+ in order to gauge the latest prevalence of avoidable blindness in the country
- Form a Task Force & Technical Advisory Committee and build their capacity to execute the National Plan of Action effectively in the country
- Supporting the MoH in organising a national stakeholder workshop to design a five-year national action plan and pilot project for eye health integration
We’re making significant progress
Thanks to some great work with our partners, we achieved a lot in 2014:
Research, training and technology
- Conducted outreach eye camps in Yangon and Myeik where 4,671 cataract operations were performed
- Supported two local ophthalmologists to receive Small Incision Cataract Surgery training at the world-renowned Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology in Nepal
- Trained two clinic support staff
- Supplied $103,437 worth of eye health equipment to Yangon Eye Hospital