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.
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 many 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. That's why community education is a key strategic approach for The Foundation in Myanmar.
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
The Myanmar program receives support from the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program
We’re making significant progress
Thanks to some great work with our partners, we achieved a lot in 2019:
Research, training and technology
- Screened 115,622 people
- Performed 1,348 eye operations and treatments, including 1,319 cataract operations and 29 other sight saving or improving interventions
- Distributed 1,307 pairs of glasses
- Trained 10,109 people, including 9,920 community health workers and 189 teachers
- Educated 98,705 school children and community members in eye health
- Equipped 3,671 medical facilities and 18 schools