Boasting an exquisite natural beauty of limestone islands and endless beaches, as well as a diverse culture and history, Vietnam is an intricate, unique and rewarding country. It’s also especially meaningful for The Foundation – Vietnam was where Fred made one of his last promises.
An introduction to Vietnam
From battling off Chinese occupation, then French colonialism, to the war in the 1960s-1970s, Vietnam has a varied and complex history. However, throughout it all the Vietnamese people have always come together to fight for their independence with great determination.
A year before his death, Fred made a promise that would end up restoring sight to hundreds of thousands of people in Vietnam. When he visited in the early 1990s, he found a team of keen eye surgeons who, however, lacked the skills or equipment to undertake modern cataract surgery. He returned to Vietnam just months before his death to make good his promise to conduct the first training course for over 300 surgeons. Sadly, Fred died before he could fulfil his other promise of providing surgical equipment and supplies. However, The Foundation fulfilled this on his behalf, and we’ve been working in Vietnam ever since.
Today Vietnam is thriving. Its political system is stable and the country is well on its way to providing greater opportunities for its people now and for generations to come. However, there remain issues around easily accessible and quality eye health care for people in remote regions. This is where we now focus our efforts.
What are the eye health problems?
Almost 70 per cent of Vietnam’s population live in rural villages where problems caused by blindness often go untreated. Many people living in these areas don’t realise that cataract
blindness is treatable and that their sight can be restored. This is often because local leaders are unaware of, or don’t understand, the vital link between blindness and its affect on social and economic development.
There are currently 1.4 million people needing cataract surgery in Vietnam, so there’s a lot of work to be done. The impact of blindness goes beyond not being able to see. Children born with cataract may never go to school, adults are unable to work and contribute to the community and sadly, elderly people can have many grandchildren, yet never see their faces.
The Foundation’s programs in Vietnam
The work we’ve done in Vietnam since the beginning of The Foundation has included developing an eye care model which has been replicated across our operations around the world. This model is based on local training, providing infrastructure and equipment, raising community awareness, and working with governments to make sustainable changes in eye health.
We invest in Vietnam’s eye health workforce as a priority: surgeons, nurses and health workers are a key factor in addressing the country’s avoidable blindness. We take a national approach to this and partner with universities to develop a uniform curriculum for eye care courses. By focusing on training and building capacity, many more thousands of people in remote areas can be screened, then referred or treated for their eye health conditions.
The Foundation also works with our partners in government, local provinces, eye hospitals and other NGOs to create large-scale change to eye health in Vietnam. We are building a quality and integrated eye health system, lobbying the government for greater funding and policy influence as well as increasing awareness of primary eye health and the frequency of screenings.
We believe that once each of these areas are strengthened, we can bridge the gap in quality services between remote areas and cities, to finally eradicate avoidable blindness from Vietnam.
We’re making significant progress
Thanks to some great work with our partners, we achieved a lot in 2014:
Research, training and technology
- Examined 998,092 people
- Supported 58,619 eye operations and treatments including 28,496 sight restoring cataract surgeries
- Supported 1,315 surgeries to treat trachoma trichiasis
- Distributed 4,471 pairs of glasses
- Trained 19 surgeons, 57 clinic support staff and 5,817 community health workers
- Supported 310 people to further their eye health education
- Helped build an eye clinic in Quang Nam Province, which services 1.5 million people
- Completed the operating theatre and wards at the Ha Tinh Province Eye Centre and donated $693,714 worth of equipment
- Built, upgraded or renovated six eye health facilities