China is an enthralling place. Its sheer size and diverse landscape of long coastlines, fertile plains, valleys, mountains and deserts means you could make the mistake of thinking you’d travelled several countries instead of just the one. If that wasn’t enough to fascinate, it’s also home to one of the world’s oldest civilisations.
A brief introduction to China
China has a long and rich history that dates back to the beginning of civilisation. For thousands of years, China’s political system was based on dynasties, where different family monarchies ruled for periods of time.
Each dynasty brought interesting additions to Chinese culture and history, with introductions of art, literature, standards for weights, and inventions like gun powder and the compass. This adaptiveness and innovative spirit has survived the test of time.
Since economic liberalisation in 1978, China’s economy has ranked among the world’s fastest growing. Today, it is second only to that of the United States and the country is home to the world’s largest population of 1.4 billion.
While several decades of reform have resulted in rapid economic growth and increasing prosperity, a major reduction in poverty belies a gap in wealth and services between urban and rural Chinese.
What are the eye health problems?
China has the highest burden of avoidable blindness in the world, accounting for 17% of the global total.
Millions of people who are blind in China live in rural areas of the country where the availability and access to eye health services is low. The ethnic diversity and remoteness of communities makes eliminating avoidable blindness particularly challenging. Women are also more likely to suffer and are less likely to access eye care services.
While increasing wealth has improved eye health services, access to them still reflects the city-country divide. There are well-equipped and fully staffed hospitals in urban centres, and inadequate and unaffordable health care in rural areas.
Up to 80% of China’s blind population lives in rural areas, yet about three-quarters of the country’s 28,000 eye doctors work in urban hospitals. Many patients in rural poor areas of China can’t afford the price of simple cataract surgery because it can cost as much as a whole year’s income.
is the leading cause of blindness, accounting for almost half the cases, and it’s estimated there’s a cataract surgical backlog of three million.
Diabetes is an increasing health problem, and the incidence of diabetic retinopathy
is rising rapidly. Approximately 3.5 million people with diabetes have been diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy and a further 92.4 million people with diabetes are at risk of developing diabetes-related blindness in the future.
The Foundation’s programs in China
The Fred Hollows Foundation has been working in China since 1998 to support partners in rural areas in delivering sustainable and high-quality eye care services.
Our China country strategy is moving towards a focus on advocating with the government to allocate appropriate resources to eye health. We’re working with them to build sustainable health systems that can be replicated to provide services for rural, poor and ethnic minority communities that remain underserved with eye health services.
The Foundation works in partnership with the Chinese Government, the China Disabled Persons’ Federation, United Nations agencies and other NGOs to promote the cause of blindness prevention as a national priority.
We’re also working to address the following issues:
- Addressing the emerging threat of diabetic retinopathy
- Supporting the Chinese Government in the implementation of a new National Plan on Blindness Prevention and allocation of funds to under-resourced areas
- Developing a training model that will increase the number of eye surgeons and nurses now and in the future
- Piloting the Hollows Model of Comprehensive Rural Eye Care to advocate with the government to replicate it across China
We’re making significant progress
Thanks to some great work with our partners, we have been able to consistently achieve great results in some of our key strategic areas.
Here are some of the highlights from 2021:
Research, training and technology
- Screened 372,619 people
- Distributed 41,517 pairs of glasses
- Performed 79,409 eye operations and treatments, including 2,730 cataract operations and 76,679 other sight saving or improving interventions.
- Trained 5,242 people, including 19 surgeons, 26 clinic support staff, 1,992 community health workers and 2,956 teachers
- Educated 385,531 school children and community members in eye health
- Built, renovated or equipped 800 medical facilities