With over 7,000 islands, more than 400 coral species, crystal clear waters and sandy white beaches, the Philippines is a tropical wonderland. While rich in natural beauty, it also faces many extremes – from mega malls to mega slums, village fiestas to natural disasters. Through all this, you’ll find positive, vibrant people ready to face whatever comes their way.
An introduction to the Philippines
The Philippines has experienced a varied and somewhat troubled past. First, there were 300 years of Spanish colonisation, followed by another 50 years of American control. When the country was finally declared independent, it experienced economic growth and democracy, but was thrown back into widespread poverty, famine and corruption for over 20 years under the hands of the former Filipino dictator, Ferdinand Marcos.
The Philippines of today is a country of contrasts. There is great wealth in the capital, Manila, and other large cities with a strong middle class and high levels of employment. In rural areas and urban fringes, however, unemployment and poverty persist, with some families having to rely on money sent home from family members working overseas. It is in these circumstances of poverty that eye health issues become rife and why our work here is so important. This was proved by PricewaterhouseCoopers, who found a fourfold economic return for every dollar invested in eliminating avoidable blindness in countries like the Philippines.
What are the eye health problems?
In a population of around 100 million, avoidable blindness affects roughly 600,000 Filipino people. Cataract
is the greatest problem, with new cases overwhelming the current health system. Those suffering live mostly in impoverished areas, with lack of access to even the most basic eye care. Sadly, most eye care services are in the capital, Manila, where the wealthy can afford private ophthalmologists’ fees.
Community eye care is almost non-existent in the Philippines and is not part of the government's basic health care services. There is also little incentive for ophthalmologists to work in rural areas where the need is greatest; however, we’re specifically working with our partners to address these issues.
The Foundation’s programs in the Philippines
The Foundation’s work in the Philippines started in 2014 and aims to eliminate avoidable blindness, increase the quality of and access to eye care, and empower the Filipino health system to become more sustainable.
We’re involved in a three-year partnership with Tarlac Eye Centre, a provincial hospital around 130 kilometres north of Manila, which helps attract ophthalmologists by incentivising them via a different pay structure. Here, we provide support for the Linaw Tingin (Clear Vision) program, a community eye care program that trains and mobilises village health workers for screening. By doing this, Tarlac province has been able to increase its rate of cataract surgery from 589 in 2010 to a total of almost 7,000 surgeries in 2014, making eye health so much more accessible across the province.
In addition to training thousands of village health workers, the Clear Vision program has also trained school teachers to screen children, and community leaders to screen adults, for a range of eye conditions, and better reach underserved areas. We’re also starting to work with the Department of Health at national and provincial levels in rolling out their community eye care program sustainably.