The Foundation is helping to build up local eye care services in Lao PDR.

The Foundation is helping to build up local eye care services in Lao PDR.

The Foundation is currently working in Lao PDR’s four northern provinces where the mountainous terrain and high levels of poverty mean many people can’t access essential services.


The mobile eye screening approach is particularly successful in remote areas of Laos.In the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), the majority of the population live in rural and remote areas without access to basic infrastructure and services. Much of the country is mountainous and half of it is heavily forested.

People living in the highlands generally suffer from greater levels of poverty and poorer health than those living on the plains, and that’s why The Foundation’s program targets the mountainous northern provinces of the country.

It is estimated that 1% of people in Lao PDR are blind, but in the northern provinces where we work the rate is nearly 5%.

Cataract blindness, which is treatable, accounts for well over half of all cases. In Lao PDR many people are not aware of eye health services and are unable to afford treatment. The actual cost of surgery is too high, and most villages where we work are several days walk from a treatment centre, which means people often can’t afford to get there or the time away from work.

Also, there are too few trained eye health workers in Lao PDR, and the government funds allocated to eye health are limited.

Our goal in Lao PDR is to reduce avoidable blindness through improving access to high quality, sustainable and affordable eye care services, and to raise the profile of avoidable blindness issues and ensure sustained government support for eye health programs.

Achievements 2013

  • Performed 3,344 sight-saving or improving interventions, including 1,167 cataract surgeries
  • Screened 62,692 people
  • Conducted four outreach eye camps in the country’s remote, mountainous north where hundreds of surgeries and thousands of screenings took place
  • Trained 54 clinic support staff and 173 community health workers
  • Evaluation of The Foundation’s six-year project in northern Lao PDR found significant increases in cataract surgery rates and strengthening eye service facilities in target areas
  • Conducted scoping studies in six new provinces where work will begin in 2014
  • Distributed 1,167 pairs of spectacles.

We achieved these results working together with our partners.

About the program

In 2004, after an inter-country blindness prevention workshop in Thailand, The Foundation was asked by the director of the National Ophthalmology Centre in Lao PDR to investigate what we could do in the country.

The Foundation's Medical Adviser, Dr Richard LeMesurier with a local eye doctor, Lao PDR. After comprehensive site assessments and consultations we signed an agreement with the Ministry of Health and began work on Lao’s Sustainable Comprehensive Eye Care Project in 2008.

Since then The Foundation has been working alongside its partners in the northern provinces of Oudomxay, Luang Namtha, Phongsaly and Bokeo to strengthen the capacity of local eye care services to meet the eye care needs of the primarily rural and remote population.

Overall, considerable progress has been made since the project began, with the project successfully increasing the number of people with access to eye health services. Screening activities and mobile cataract surgeries have been performed in the target provinces, restoring the sight of patients in difficult to access and underserved areas.

When we started work the cataract surgical rate per million population was 597. In 2009 it had increased to 1,290 surgeries per million thanks to the project support from The Foundation.

The project has now been extended to mid 2014.

During the extension phase, The Foundation will continue to work with partners in the four northern provinces to reduce avoidable blindness, through activities including:

  • improving infrastructure and equipment
  • training eye health personnel, including primary eye care workers, nurses, and eye doctors
  • supporting the delivery of outreach eye screening and treatment for patients in remote areas
  • establishing refraction services at the provincial hospitals
  • increasing awareness of eye health and eye care services.

Facts and figures

Eye health
Number of blind people  56,221

National blindness prevalence 1%

Main causes of blindness cataract (60% of blind population), corneal scarring (13%), glaucoma (10%) and childhood blindness (7%)
Number of people with cataract blindness (backlog and annual incidence) backlog is estimated to be 28,500 cases and the annual incidence is estimated to be 5,600 cases annually

Number of cataract operations performed annually 4,831

Reasons for low cataract surgical rates and backlog low awareness about eye health care and services, poor distribution of services, a lack of trained staff in remote areas, accessibility and affordability of surgery, a general fear within the community

 of health treatment and low levels of government investment in eye care.
General health
Population        6.4 million
Urban population 35%
Life expectancy 67.8
Infant mortality rate (per 1,000 births) 42
Children (0-5 years) underweight for age 31%
Population living on $1.25 per day 34%
Adult literacy rate 73%
Number of doctors (per 10,000 people) 3

Sources: Eye health statistics from 1994, more recent figures not available, CBMI, Lao PDR Ministry of Health, UNDP Human Development Report 2013

What we can do

Help keep Fred’s dream alive.

4 out of 5 people who are blind in the developing world don't need to be. Routine treatment costing as little as $25 can restore sight and hope.