Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bob Carr, has announced a new $1 million initiative to tackle avoidable blindness during a visit to Laos.

“Restoring a person’s vision has immediate and significant benefits for those who suffer blindness and for those who care for them,” Senator Carr said.

The Fred Hollows Foundation, which has been working in Laos since 2008, welcomed Senator Carr’s announcement.

"The Australian Government is playing an important role in eliminating avoidable blindness in the developing world,” said The Foundation’s Director of Public Affairs, David Britton.

“This announcement, together with the important work already underway through AusAID, will help restore sight and change lives,” Britton said.

Senator Carr said the new funding would include the delivery of primary eye care, training for nurses, eye doctors and ophthalmologists, as well as provision of equipment for testing.

“Avoidable blindness is a significant global health problem which hinders development and disproportionately impacts the poor, yet much of it can be prevented or treated,” Senator Carr said.

“Girls and women are most often called on to sacrifice education, employment and mobility to care for a blind relative. When vision is restored in instances like this, then the enrolment of girls in schools goes up,” Senator Carr said.

It is estimated that approximately one per cent of the population of Laos is blind. Over half of all cases are due to cataract, a condition that can be overcome with a relatively simple operation.