The inception meeting for an innovative project to increase both the demand for eyeglasses, and the access to screening and provision, and accelerate the availability of affordable and quality products in Cambodia was held this week in Phnom Penh.
Cambodia’s inter-ministries — Health, Education, Women’s Affairs, Social Affairs, Disability Action Council, 15 provincial administrations and The Fred Hollows Foundation jointly conducted the inception meeting for the Implementation of Scaling Up Refractive Error Services.
The meeting inducted partners and outlined the project’s strategic direction, its detail activity plan, project governance and policies and developed a good practice model for provincial vision centers to ensure functioning, effectiveness, efficiency, and sustainability.
The ultimate aim of the project is to strengthen service provision models, and address other elements that influence the market for eyeglasses. It is funded by a USAID grant and in support of ATscale and UNOPS.
Many people in Cambodia can’t access affordable, high quality eyeglasses and eye services. There is a lack of qualified eye care workers, and eyeglass providers are often poorly equipped and unregulated.
There's insufficient data on the prevalence of refractive error to inform policy and decision making. There is also no financing model for the affordable provision of eyeglasses for the poor and a lack of demand from consumers.
The Government of Cambodia has made significant progress in providing eye health services over the past decade. There has been a sharp reduction in the prevalence of blindness (from 3.8% to 0.37%), but the challenge of providing eyeglasses remains.
The induction meeting was presided over by HE Dr Veasnakiry Lo, secretary of state representing the Minister of Health, Ms Lenna Neat Arango, Infectious Diseases Team Lead, US Agency for International Development and attended by 105 senior officials from the government agencies and eye health NGOs.
Ms Lenna Neat Arango, Infectious Diseases Team Lead, US Agency for International Development, at the opening ceremony.
Photo credit: Mr. Suos Chamroeun
Ms Arango said: “USAID is pleased to support this project since it will enable thousands of children and adults with vision impairment to access affordable glasses. We are committed to promoting inclusion and equitable eye health services, particularly for those who need it most. This includes women, girls, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, people in poverty, and those residing in remote locations.”
At the opening ceremony, Dr Lo offered recommendations including:
- Exploring the best model to effectively and sustainably operate vision centers in accordance with available resources, including after the project is finished;
- Consider including eye health planning and budgets into the subnational health plan;
- Including key eye health indicators into the Health Information Management System of the Ministry of Health;
- Promoting eye health research activities to gather evidence base data to inform policy development and intervention;
- That Provincial Health Departments continue good cooperation with other line provincial departments and development partners to promote eye health intervention; and
- Appealed for ongoing support from donors, including USAID, to end avoidable blindness in Cambodia.
Through the project, about 80,000 children will have access to affordable eyeglasses and 30,000 women and men living below the poverty line will obtain subsidized eyeglasses. Importantly, permanent access to refractive services and eyeglasses will be created.
The project will provide a potential model which can be replicated and scaled in other countries or for other assistive technological devices. It is an important demonstration project for a market-shaping approach to eyeglasses provision.
The Fred Hollows Foundation, which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary, has been working in Cambodia since 1998. Its vision is to end avoidable blindness and vision impairment.