With a population of over 160 million, Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. As lush as it is chaotic, Bangladesh’s network of rivers means there are almost as many waterways as there are roads. This makes for a unique, vibrant and jam-packed corner of the world.
A brief introduction to Bangladesh
After a relatively brief yet horrific war with Pakistan, Bangladesh gained independence in 1971. Since then, it has cut its poverty figures in half and made great improvements for its people. The economy is growing rapidly and garment exports are the backbone of Bangladesh’s economy. However, there’s still substantial poverty in rural areas, alongside issues with inequality, poor infrastructure, corruption, insufficient power supplies and political instability.
Bangladesh is one of the lowest-lying countries in the world. Rivers that criss-cross the landscape make it prone to flooding during the monsoon season and vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. This frequent flooding brings huge devastation to rural livelihoods with damage to property and crops, not to mention sanitation issues that cause disease associated with eye health.
What are the eye health problems?
Over half a million people in Bangladesh are blind from cataract and the country has one of the highest reported rates of untreated cataract in the world. Due to extreme poverty and a lack of awareness that cataract blindness is preventable and treatable, many people unnecessarily become and remain blind.
Diabetes is also an emerging public health problem. It can lead to diabetic retinopathy
, an eye disease which causes blindness if left untreated. Currently 1.54 million people in Bangladesh are at risk of diabetes-related blindness.
Another significant problem is that most eye care services in Bangladesh are based in major cities. This creates a large gap in available help when more than three quarters of the country's population live in rural areas. There’s also a lack of trained professionals to provide screening and treatment, a shortage of appropriate equipment, and minimal facilities to meet demand.
People who are blind are less likely to go to school, work, or live independently. Many more women than men are suffering from avoidable blindness due to issues of gender inequality. When cataract blindness is treatable with straightforward and inexpensive surgery, it’s an injustice that modern eye care is yet to reach so many people in Bangladesh.
The Foundation’s programs in Bangladesh
We work to support those who need help the most: people in remote communities, those living in significant poverty, women, ethnic minority groups, the elderly, and transgender people.
The Foundation is helping to tackle avoidable blindness by working with the government and other NGOs to implement the government’s National Eye Care Plan. When we started work in 2007, we were present in two districts. Now, we work in 24 districts and are able to reach 60 million people. As part of this plan, we’re working to better integrate eye health services at a community level and to increase overall government support.
More specifically, we’re focusing on training ophthalmologists, eye care nurses and other healthcare workers to build a sustainable workforce. We’re also working with our partners to help raise general awareness of eye health and the help available. To complement this, we’re increasing our outreach screening and treatment services.
We’re making significant progress
Thanks to some great work with our partners, we achieved a lot last year in some of our key strategic areas:
Research, training and technology
- Examined the eyes of 384,072 people
- Carried out over 124,000 eye operations and treatments
- Performed 16,217 sight restoring cataract surgeries
- Performed 1,735 procedures to treat diabetic retinopathy
- Distributed over 15,000 pairs of glasses
Advocacy and partnerships
- Trained 33 surgeons and 6,227 community health workers
- Trained schoolteachers in how to detect refractive error
- Trained four surgeons, three nurses and 624 community health workers to specialise in childhood blindness and diabetic retinopathy
- Trained 31 clinic support staff
- Upgraded facilities including the Barisal branch of the Ispahani Islamia Eye Institute and Hospital
- Donated $68,251 worth of equipment
- The Foundation’s district eye care model was replicated by the National Government in Patuakhali and Chittagong district hospitals. Previously, there were no cataract surgeries being conducted in this facility but it’s now delivering services to some of the most disadvantaged members of the community
- Collaborated with the Ministry of Education to expand its schools screening program