Zhi-nu Wang is 73 years old. She lives in Qing Shui He County, 2.5-hours drive from Hohhot in Inner Mongolia, China. She is a bright granny and always wears a big smile. 

She lives with her second husband, 74-year-old  Fan-tang Xiao.  “My husband is dead, so is his wife. So we got married and take care of each other.” The couple both had children from their previous marriages, but the children work in the cities and do not live with their parents. They are the typical “empty nest” elderly people in China. Though life can be hard, they find it happy by growing potatoes and raising sheep. 

Zhi-nu was diagnosed with cataract three years ago. As well as being blind, she could not walk very well which makes life even harder. Zhi-ni’s husband had cataract surgery some time ago so he encouraged Zhi-nu have the operation. 

Their cases were discovered because a team formed by The Fred Hollows Foundation and The Hohhot Chaoju Hospital conducted outreach to the couple. The team has to travel four to five hours back and forth between the country and downtown Hohhot nearly every day. The goal is to find elderly people who need eye surgery, and bring them to hospital. 

“Qing Shui He is national poverty county. Most people are elderly and transportation is inconvenient. These prevent the elderly to seek medical help. That’s why it is important for us to visit them household by household to make sure they get what they need. It’s a tough job, but necessary. ” 
- Dr. Lu-ning Cheng, a member of the outreach team

The Chaoju Hospital surveyed more than 3000 patients and discovered that transportation, awareness, and lack of companions brining the patients to hospital prevents people in need from seeking treatment. As a result the hospital, working together with The Foundation, set up a “three-tier” program which covers the town, county and provinces. Special teams are set up, bringing with them promotional materials and facilities supported by The Foundation, to reach out to the community in small towns and counties. 

Standard Chartered Bank (China) Limited has partnered with The Fred Hollows Foundation for the past three years to set up the “Seeing is Believing” Phase V project in Inner Mongolia, China. Funding of more than RMB$7.4 million was provided to seven hospitals in the area for training medical staff, screening in the community and organising awareness raising and education programs. The project covers 77% of the population in Inner Mongolia. 

Achievements from the three-year project include:

  • Provided affordable and quality eye care to more than 80,000 patients;
  • Screened more than 300,000 patients 
  • Trained 3000 medical staff on cataract, diabetic retinopathy and refractive error treatment and surgery.

Inner Mongolia is vast and the population is scattered. Awareness of eye care is low among the general public and people often refuse to get treatment because of fear. There are nearly 109,000 people who are blind in Inner Mongolia and 245,000 have low vision. Cataract is the main cause of blindness which accounts for half of the blind population in the area. The number of patients with diabetic retinopathy is also on the rise. 

Eye care services are limited in Inner Mongolia due to lack of resources. “Seeing is Believing” came at a time to tackle avoidable blindness by training doctors and build a staying eye care team in the community.