A young child recovers after eye surgery in Vietnam.

A young child recovers after eye surgery in Vietnam.

"It was only me in 1992,” says Dr Pham Binh, one of the first doctors in Vietnam to be trained by Fred Hollows. Since then The Foundation has helped train and equip hundreds of doctors to perform modern cataract surgery in Vietnam.


Treatment of cataract blindness has come a long way in Vietnam since Professor Fred Hollows visited in 1992 to introduce modern surgical training and techniques.

Blind for three years, 83-year-old Nguyen Thi Tan has her patch removed at the Hai Lang District Health Centre. Photo: Sandy Scheltema/The AgeIn 1992, around one million Vietnamese people needed cataract surgery and 350,000 were totally blind. Only 1,000 cataract operations using intraocular lenses (IOL) were being performed each year.

Today, less than 252,000 people need cataract surgery in both eyes and around 200,000 IOL surgeries are performed every year.

Fred died just 10 months after his initial visit, but he and his wife Gabi and friends started The Fred Hollows Foundation so his work could continue.

The training program initiated by The Foundation in 1993 to train hundreds of surgeons to perform modern sight-restoring cataract surgery (with IOLs) in collaboration with the Vietnam National Institute of Ophthalmology (VNIO) is still marked as a “revolution in ophthalmology” in Vietnam.

Our Vietnam program has since expanded into many parts of the country and, in 2010,Fred’s medical student son Cam Hollows accepted a Vietnamese Friendship Medal on The Foundation’s behalf – the country’s highest honour for a foreign organisation.

The Australian Government is currently providing major funding through the AusAID-funded Avoidable Blindness Initiative.

Achievements 2013

  • Performed 30,657 cataract surgeries and 35,503 other sight-saving or improving interventions
  • Completed a three-year trachoma elimination program which performed 16,228 surgeries in 15 high-priority provinces
  • Trained 20 surgeons, 150 nurses and clinic support staff and 7,095 community health workers and teachers
  • Screened 915,022 people including over 40,000 people living in remote areas – doubling our target through a successful community outreach campaign
  • Constructed, upgraded or renovated 14 facilities
  • Supplied $856,574 in medical equipment.

We achieved these results working together with our partners.

About the program

The Foundation’s Vietnam program is extensive and still expanding. We work in partnership with the Ministry of Health, the VNIO and provincial health departments.

Training local health professionals is a key focus of our work in Vietnam. Photo: 	Brendan EspositoWe have a particularly strong connection with the VNIO, which is responsible for eye health policy in Vietnam, and is the major provider of ophthalmic training in the north of the country.

Over a 15-year partnership, The Foundation helped the VNIO train and equip 322 doctors from across Vietnam to perform modern sight-restoring cataract surgery.

We are currently working with one of the world’s largest private foundations, Atlantic Philanthropies, to strengthen the VNIO’s capacity as a national level training facility.

This project is supporting the VNIO to:

  • develop a national curriculum for ophthalmic residency and ophthalmic nursing training in line with International Council of Ophthalmology (ICO) standards
  • deliver improved core ophthalmic training courses with a particular emphasis on training provincial eye health staff in central and northern Vietnam
  • establish a VNIO community eye care service for provision of free treatment to poor patients
  • provide ophthalmic equipment to the VNIO to enhance and improve service delivery and training activities
  • install an HMIS system to enhance VNIO's management

We are also working on projects that will improve existing eye care networks and eye health services across a total of 17 provinces using a model of community-based vision care.

Patients after surgery at the Quang Tri District Health centre at Hai Lang. Photo: Sandy Scheltema/The AgeTwo of these projects are supported by Atlantic Philanthropies and the Australian Government’s Avoidable Blindness Initiative (ABI).

The AusAID-supported project commenced in 2010 and is running in six provinces. The most recent phase of the Altantic Philanthropy Project commenced in 2009 and is currently running in five provinces. Additionally, in 2012 we will support the expansion of our Comprehensive Eye Care Model into six more provinces. These projects will significantly increase the number of trained ophthalmic personnel in the target provinces, and will establish the facilities necessary to adequately screen, treat and refer patients.

We are also working with a number of partners to develop and pilot vision centres within existing district health facilities in 3 provinces in the north, centre and south of Vietnam in order to demonstrate their effectiveness to the national government. This program is also supported by AusAID’s Avoidable Blindness Initiative.

Our Urban Childhood Blindness Project, which aims to strengthen the delivery of high-quality, affordable and accessible eye care services for children aged 0-15 years across 14 districts in Hanoi and 6 districts in Ho Chi Minh City, is supported by The Standard Chartered Bank.

A project started in late 2011 to support the government of Vietnam’s efforts to eliminate blinding Trachoma in Vietnam is being supported by the Task Force for Global Health.

Through our projects we also:

  • provide cataract surgery subsidies for poorer patients
  • support the treatment of other eye diseases including glaucoma, childhood blindness, and refractive error
  • construct and renovate eye units, clinics and hospitals, and provide essential medical equipment
  • raise awareness about the prevention and treatment of eye disease amongst community members and policy-makers.

Facts and figures

Eye health
Number of blind people 385,800 people
National blindness prevalence 3.1% (amongst people over 50 years)
Main causes of blindness cataract (66% for people over 50 years), also glaucoma, posterior segment, trachoma, corneal scarring and refractive error
Number of people blind in both eyes from cataract 251,700 with an annual incidence of approximately 84,000
Reasons for low cataract surgical rates and backlog lack of awareness and affordability, and lack of eye care professionals, particularly in countryside and remote areas
General health
Population 89.7 million
Urban population 32%
Life expectancy 75.4
Infant mortality rate (per 1,000 births) 19
Children (0-5 years) underweight for age 20%
Population living on $1.25 per day 40%
Adult literacy rate 93%
Number of doctors (per 10,000 people) 12

Sources:Vietnam Ministry of Health; National Prevention of Blindness Plan, Dec 2009, Rapid Assessment Avoidable Blindness 2007, 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.