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China China


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. If that wasn’t enough to fascinate, it’s also home to one of the world’s oldest civilisations.

A brief introduction to China

China has a long and rich history that dates back to the beginning of civilisation. For thousands of years, China’s political system was based on dynasties, where different family monarchies ruled for periods of time. Each dynasty brought interesting additions to Chinese culture and history, with introductions of art, literature, standards for weights, and inventions like gun powder and the compass. This adaptiveness and innovative spirit has survived the test of time.

Since economic liberalisation in 1978, China’s economy has ranked among the world’s fastest growing. Today, it is second only to that of the United States and the country is home to the world’s largest population of 1.4 billion. While several decades of reform have resulted in 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 17 per cent 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 28,000 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 with 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 with the government to replicate it across China

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.

In-country programs
  • Performed over 140,000 eye operations and treatments and distributed over 10,000 pairs of glasses.
  • The Foundation became the first international charity to work with ethnic minorities in Xinjang to help with the delivery of eye services. We also launched projects in Inner Mongolia and Anhui
  • Supported 3,383 cataract operations
  • Carried out 2,099 procedures to treat diabetic retinopathy
  • Carried out 3,362 surgeries to treat trachoma trichiasis
Research, training and technology
  • Trained 30 surgeons, 108 clinic support staff and 2,320 community health workers and teachers
  • Renovated 12 facilities including equipping three vision centres in county hospitals in Inner Mongolia
  • Supplied $546,667 worth of equipment
Advocacy and partnerships
  • Co-funded The PRICE Project. Working together with rural hospitals in China, this project aims to create, study and advocate for a model that can be adopted by the government to provide free glasses for school-aged children
  • Continued to advocate for the elimination of avoidable blindness by working with the National Blindness Prevention Committee to bring together key government officials and members of the ophthalmic community