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.
A brief introduction to China
China has a long and rich history that dates back to the beginning of civilisation. Today the 27 provinces are home to the world’s largest population of 1.4 billion people. Several decades of reform have resulted in China being ranked as one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Whilst there has been 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 20% 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 30,000 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.
Cataract 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 for 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 government to replicate it across China
We’re making significant progress
We celebrated 25 years of working in China to end avoidable blindness in 2023. In the past 25 years we have achieved the following:
- Screened over 5 million people
- More than 100,000 people with cataract have had their sight restored
- Performed more than 3 million eye operations and treatments
- Trained some 51,000 people in eye health.
In 2022, we have achieved the following results because of support of our donors:
Research, training and technology
- Screened 539,697 people
- Distributed 40,172 pairs of glasses
- Performed 122,335 eye operations and treatments, including 4,717 cataract operations, 273 diabetic retinopathy treatments and 117,345 other sight saving or improving interventions.
- Trained 6,723 people, including 21 surgeons, 113 clinic support staff, 2,377 community health workers, 118 educators and 4,094 teachers
- Educated 679,111 school children and community members in eye health and sanitation
- Equipped 28 medical facilities and training facility