A total of 85,000 people including 35,000 children in the poor, rural county of Xingtang, China, will be screened for preventable eye disease as part of a two-year project to reduce avoidable blindness and vision impairment, launched by The Fred Hollows Foundation today in Beijing.
The project will screen nearly one-fifth of Xingtang’s population for cataract, refractive error including myopia, diabetic eye disease and childhood blindness, and significantly increase access to eye care services in Xingtang County, Hebei Province, identified by the government as an area in need of poverty alleviation.
For the first time The Foundation will work directly alongside a County Health and Family Planning Commission to train 660 community health workers in primary eye care, and 35 county and township doctors in eye surgery so they can teach others.
Doctors at Xingtang County Hospital will also be trained in cataract surgery, enabling them to independently perform the simple 20-minute sight-restoring operation. Despite cataract being one of the leading eye health issues among Xingtang’s 459,000 people, a shortage of eye health workers has left the hospital unable to undertake cataract surgery by themselves until now.
Today’s launch, held at the Australian Embassy in Beijing, signals The Foundation’s commitment to expanding eye health care in China, which remains home to 20 per cent of the world’s blind, a high proportion of whom live in poverty in rural and remote areas like Xingtang.
“The Fred Hollows Foundation is proud to partner with the Xingtang County Health and Family Planning Commission and The Chinese Disabled Persons Federation to reduce avoidable blindness and vision impairment in Xingtang County,” said Chair of The Fred Hollows Foundation, the Hon John Brumby.
“Four out of five people who are blind don’t have to be, and in most cases their sight can be restored through simple screening and treatment provided by trained and accessible eye health workers.
“Restoring sight means children can experience their childhood and go to school, parents can return to work and provide for their families, and the elderly can regain their independence.
“It not only returns a person’s quality of life and livelihood, but as research by PwC for The Foundation shows, every $1 invested in eliminating avoidable blindness returns at least $4 to the local economy.
“The Xingtang project would not be possible without the generous financial support of the Goodman Group, and I would like to acknowledge The Goodman Foundation for solely donating the $231,640 Australian dollars (RMB$1.17m) needed to implement the project.
“The Goodman Foundation shares our focus on positive social change and their support will be instrumental in improving the quality of life and health of many thousands of people by restoring their sight.”
The Xingtang project marks almost 20 years since The Foundation began working with the Government of the People’s Republic of China and local health services, with more than 1.3 million people screened in Xinjiang, Anhui, Yunnan, Inner Mongolia, Hebei, Jiangxi and Sichuan since 2006.
However, avoidable blindness and vision impairment are expected to increase as China experiences major economic and demographic changes, a growing ageing population and the emergence of public health challenges such as diabetes, which can lead to diabetic retinopathy.
Ending avoidable blindness was the life mission of the late Professor Fred Hollows, who in 1992, after being diagnosed with cancer, set up The Fred Hollows Foundation with his wife Gabi.
Today, The Foundation is one of Australia’s most well-known international development organisations, working in 25 countries worldwide including nine countries in Asia, where 31 percent of the world’s blind live.
“The Fred Hollows Foundation is well known for the immediate impact of its work and I am delighted to help launch their latest project in China,” said the Ambassador of Australia to the People’s Republic of China, Her Excellency Ms Jan Adams AO PSM.
“The Xingtang project is a wonderful example of governments, international non-government organisations and the private sector leading the way and collaborating to alleviate poverty.”
The Xingtang project is being led by The Foundation’s program staff in Kunming and Beijing, and supported by its office in Hong Kong, opened in 2015 to help efforts in the region. Screening of people in Xingtang County commenced in August.