The People's Republic of China has a population of 1.3 billion and, with more blind people than the total population of Denmark or Ireland, accounts for approximately 17% of the world’s blind population.
China has made significant steps towards improving its population's standard of living and general health. Life expectancy has risen and infant mortality rates have dropped dramatically from 85 per 1,000 live births in 1970 to 16 in 2012.
But in such a huge country improvement varies considerably from region to region, as does access to crucial health services.
Eye care services are overwhelmingly concentrated in urban areas with around three quarters of the country’s 28,000 eye doctors working in urban hospitals, while three quarters of the blind live in rural areas.
Even where there are eye care professionals and eye units, poor patients cannot afford the high prices of surgery. A simple cataract surgery in some rural areas in China can cost patients as much as one year’s income.
The Foundation has been working with local health bureaus and hospitals in China since 1998 to develop sustainable models of affordable and high quality eye care services for the rural poor. A large part of The Foundation's work in China has been building expertise, experience and capacity among local health professionals.
Working together with our local partners in China, The Foundation:
- Performed 5,914 cataract operations and 89,568 other sight saving or improving interventions
- Trained 29 surgeons, 37 clinic support staff and 3,305 community health workers
- Constructed, renovated or upgraded 54 eye health facilities including new Vision Centres at Lancang County Hospital (Yunnan Province) and Nanjiang County Hospital (Jiangsu Province)
- Screened 194,568 people for eye health
- Delivered $681,117 in medical equipment
- Expanded work into two new provinces in south west China
- Completed a Rapid Assessment of Avoidable Blindness survey in Yunnan Province which identified that a large percentage of blindness is avoidable in Lancang County (85.9 per cent) and Jianchuan County (70 per cent) with the prevalence of blindness in females twice that of males.
About the Program
The Foundation’s focus in China is on preventing and treating cataract blindness, refractive error and childhood blindness.
Building the skills and capacity of local eye health professionals is a key focus of The Foundation's work in China.
The Foundation’s initial work in China concentrated on a rural pilot model in Jiangxi province, historically one of the poorest areas of China with one of the highest rates of blindness in the country.
We developed a project training health professionals in modern cataract surgery at county level hospitals in Jiangxi Province and, in partnership with the Provincial Bureau of Health, the project trained 85 doctors and supported staff from 63 hospitals.
The success of The Foundation’s program in Jiangxi Province over the past 13 years has encouraged the Jiangxi Provincial Government to develop its own cataract program.
The Foundation has recently expanded its work from Jiangxi Province to four more of the poorest provinces in China – the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Gansu Province, Yunnan Province, and certain ethnic minority areas of Sichuan Province.
One of these areas is Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province. The Prefecture includes two ethnic minority regions that will be a focus for The Foundation from 2011 to 2013.
These remote areas lack many of the eye services crucial for eliminating avoidable blindness. The region has a population of nearly 5 million, and yet there is only one hospital where modern cataract surgery is performed.
Over the three-year project period, The Foundation is committed to supporting two hospitals in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture to develop their eye care service capacities, with a focus on the key causes of avoidable blindness in the region – cataract and refractive error.
When the project ends in 2013, The Foundation will have:
trained over 500 health professionals in the treatment and screening of cataracts and refractive error
- established over 60 eye clinics
- screened 44,000 people and an additional 50,000 children
- supported sight restoration of 1,800 patients through cataract surgery
- provided 3,000 people with glasses.
Due to its increased influence, The Foundation is now re-focusing its efforts on leading an innovative national advocacy project, advocating the Chinese government to make improvements to blindness prevention policy. Through this project, The Foundation will:
- Advocate for policy change for blindness prevention in China
- Advocate the Chinese Government to implement a new national plan on blindness prevention and to allocate funds to eye care services in western and rural areas
- Support the government to develop a sustainable training model for the eye health workforce
- Support the government to raise public awareness on eye health
- Demonstrate effective methods to government to reach remote, underserved and ethnic minority communities through pilot projects in Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Anhui, Sichuan and Yunnan
- Conduct research to fill knowledge gaps on which the government can base its policy
- Play a lead role in coordinating the eye health NGO sector for advocacy
Facts and figures
|Number of blind people||6.6 million|
|Main causes of blindness||cataract (47%), retina/uvea disease (13%), corneal blindness (9%), refractive error (6%) and glaucoma (6%)|
|Number of people visually impaired||13.42 million, mostly caused by refractive error|
|Number of people with cataract blindness||2.5 million backlog and an annual incidence of 1.04 million cases|
|Number of cataract operations per year||1. 2 million, a cataract surgical rate of approximately 915 operations per million population per year|
|Number of ophthalmologists||28,000, but only one third of them are capable of performing cataract surgery|
|Reasons for low cataract surgical rates and backlog||cost and quality of cataract surgery, public fear and misconceptions about surgery, lack of awareness about cataract blindness, attitudes to health (particularly towards elderly people), access to services and unequal distribution of eye care resources with 80% of resources concentrated in eastern urban areas while 80% of the population’s blind is located in western rural areas.|
|Life expectancy||73.7 years|
|Infant mortality rate (per 1,000 births)||16|
|Children (0-5 years) underweight for age||4%|
|Population living on $1.25 per day||13%|
|Number of doctors (per 10,000 people)||14|
Sources: Orbis International, National Statistical Yearbook 2006, World Health Organization, & Chinese Ophthalmology Society, Chinese Disabled Peoples Federation, second National Disabled People’s Survey (2006), UNDP Human Development Report 2013, International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) China Secretariat.
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