The revolution in ophthalmology that started in Vietnam two decades ago with the training of eye surgeons by The Fred Hollows Foundation is still at the heart of what we do in this rapidly developing South East Asian nation.


Professor Fred Hollows visited Vietnam in 1992 to introduce modern surgical training and techniques. Although Fred passed away just 10 months after that initial visit, The Foundation has strived for more than two decades, in a fruitful collaboration with the Vietnam National Institute of Ophthalmology (VNIO), to continue his legacy.

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 AgeThe country now has about 550 cataract surgeons, and the training program initiated by The Foundation in 1993 has made a significant contribution to that figure. In the course of our 20-year partnership, The Foundation has helped the VNIO train and equip 493 doctors from across Vietnam to perform modern sight-restoring cataract surgery.

In 1992, around one million Vietnamese people needed cataract surgery and 350,000 were totally blind. Only 1,000 cataract operations using intraocular lenses (IOLs) were being performed each year. Today, fewer than 252,000 people need cataract surgery in both eyes and around 200,000 intraocular lens surgeries are performed annually. However, much work remains to be done.

A recent study by The George Institute for Global Health and The Fred Hollows Foundation found vision impairment due to cataracts can be catastrophic in Vietnam because of poor access to timely and affordable health care, the absence of social security safety nets and a complex health insurance system that incurs significant out-of-pocket expenses.

Achievements 2014

Working together with our partners in 2014 we:

  • Examined the eyes of 998,092 people
  • Supported 58,619 eye operations and treatments including 28,496 sight restoring cataract surgeries
  • Supported 1,315 surgeries to treat trachoma trichiasis
  • Distributed 4,471 pairs of glasses
  • Trained 19 surgeons, 57 clinic support staff and 5,817 community health workers
  • Supported 179 people to attend other courses and 131 people to continue their education
  • Helped build an eye clinic in Quang Nam Province, which services 1.5 million people. The operating theatre and wards at the Ha Tinh Province Eye Centre were completed. $693,714 worth of equipment was donated
  • Built, upgraded or renovated 6 eye health facilities

About the program

The Foundation’s Vietnam program is extensive and still expanding. We work in partnership with the Ministry of Health and provincial health departments, and have a particularly strong connection with the VNIO. It is responsible for eye health policy in Vietnam as well as being the major provider of ophthalmic training in the north of the country. Currently, we are working on projects that will improve existing eye care networks and eye health services across a total of 16 provinces using a model of community-based vision care.

Training local health professionals is a key focus of our work in Vietnam. Photo: 	Brendan Esposito

Our current projects are:

  • The Vietnam Comprehensive Eye Care Development Project, supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), operating in 11 provinces – activities include supporting local health authorities in screening, construction of accessible hospital facilities and training
  • Seeing is Believing, a community-based eye care development project, supported by Standard Chartered Bank, operating in four provinces – activities include collaboration on screening of secondary school students and training
  • Partnerships with the medical universities in Thai Binh (northern Vietnam) and Hue (central Vietnam), supported by the Avoidable Blindness Initiative – the aim is to bolster the universities’ training capacity, addressing a lack of uniformity in curricula
  • Support for ophthalmic surgeries for childhood blindness at Da Nang Eye Hospital
  • Advocacy and support for Vietnam’s Ministry of Health in drafting the national Prevention of Blindness (PBL) strategic plan (2014-19).

Rapid economic development has lifted many Vietnamese out of poverty, but it has also created an increasingly unequal society with the rural and urban poor denied access to affordable high-quality health care. A relatively simple and low-cost intervention such as cataract surgery can take a person from unemployment and poverty to a meaningful life with the ability to support one’s family.

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 needing cataract surgery 252,000 people
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.