Universal Eye Care in Rwanda
Rwanda has become the first low-income country to provide universal eye care to its citizens. This is in an attempt to reach out to those suffering from largely preventable visual disabilities. In Rwanda, a country in Central/Eastern Africa, 34 percent of its population struggles with vision impairments. The most common vision impairment in Rwanda is shortsightedness, and 80 percent of these cases are preventable.

Vision Impairment is a Big Problem

Approximately 2.5 billion people worldwide require vision or eye care. Moreover, 32,700 per 1 million people living in Africa have some form of vision impairment. Vision impairment has proven to increase the challenges a person faces when trying to escape poverty. Without the ability to see well, children may struggle in school and parents can struggle at work.

Without the ability to learn easily, one may have difficulty finding a job, and the ability to work easily can make it difficult for one to keep whatever job they may find. Vision-related disabilities are a big problem among impoverished communities where eye care is difficult to find. These disabilities often only reinforce the cycle of poverty.

The Vision 2020 Initiative

Rwanda signed the Vision 2020 initiative in 2002, formulating a plan to meet the needs of the 34 percent of Rwandans in need of primary eye care. With the help of the Vision for a Nation Foundation, the Rwandan government has managed to provide universal eye care in Rwanda to its 11.8 million inhabitants. This is possible by training more than 3,000 nurses in an eye health course and sending these nurses to visit all 15,000 of the country’s villages to offer their help.

This nationwide program has deployed its nurses to all 502 health clinics throughout the country and has performed more than 2.4 million eye screenings. It has also provided more than 1.2 million basic eye treatments to Rwandans in need. Additionally, it has worked hard to establish a source of medications and glasses from Asia that supply all the health clinics.

The Government of Rwanda completely overtook the finances and management of the health program in January 2018. The Rwandan government was ready to fully support the program without further help from the Vision for a Nation Foundation, 16 years after signing the initiative. This marks Rwanda as the first developing country to give universal eye care to its citizens.

In a nation where only 19.8 percent of inhabitants have easy access to electricity, providing eye care for the entire population of the country is quite an impressive feat. Rwanda’s initiative is a leading example of African health care reform. This shows that it is possible to offer eye care on such a large scale in impoverished countries. One can only assume what Rwanda’s next move will be in furthering its health care availability.

– Amanda Gibson
Photo: Flickr

vision care in developing countries
DIFF is a sunglass company in Southern California that emerged in 2014. DIFF began with the intention of challenging the norm and doing good in the world. It has partnered with many charities over the years to help supply vision care in developing countries.

The Need for Vision Care in Developing Countries

Over one billion people in developing countries suffer from presbyopia. Presbyopia typically starts around the age of 40 and causes a gradual loss of close-up vision. For people in developing or impoverished countries, having clear vision is incredibly important in the workforce, especially if the jobs include skills like sewing, weaving and carving. About 2.5 billion people worldwide need eyeglasses to see clearly but are unable to access them. As many as 239 million children live with uncorrected vision. A lack of access to vision care puts another obstacle in the way of children in school without the ability to read easily and inhibits the ability of those in the workforce to do their jobs.

Eyeglasses for Everyone

For every pair of glasses that DIFF sells, it donates a pair of reading glasses to someone in need. DIFF partnered with many charities over the years to achieve this, including its original partner, Eyes on Africa. Eyes on Africa is a nonprofit organization that emerged in 2005 that provides eyeglasses to those in Africa who lack access to vision care. Through this partnership alone, DIFF has provided glasses to over 20,000 people in need. Restoring Vision is another organization DIFF has partnered with. Restoring Vision is the largest nonprofit provider of reading glasses to people living in poverty. Through DIFF’s partnership with Restoring Vision, it has helped over 150,000 people improve their vision.

Vision Care for All

DIFF has also partnered with an organization called SVOSH. SVOSH is a student chapter of the larger Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH). Under this organization, groups of optometry students provide eye exams to impoverished communities in developing countries. It also provides visual assistance and treatments for visual ailments with the help of DIFF’s funding. Projections determined that this partnership would provide vision aid to over 10,000 people around the world in 2017.

The necessity for vision aid is a facet of poverty that people often overlook, but should not neglect. Providing vision care to people in developing countries, whether that be optometry visits or providing a pair of reading glasses, can change the lives of those 2.5 billion people in need of vision aid. Accessible vision care will help millions of children struggling in school in developing countries. According to research, giving a child the appropriate vision aid is beneficial to the equivalent of an extra six months of schooling. Giving people in poverty the gift of sight makes work easier to find and to keep.

Amanda Gibson
Photo: PeakPx