Eye Health in the PhilippinesIn the Philippines, more than 2 million people live with visual impairment, with 62% of them suffering cataracts. Most of those with poor eye health live below the national poverty line. And estimates suggest that 10% to 20% of people in the Philippines belong to Indigenous groups in isolated rural areas. As the majority of ophthalmologists in the Philippines work in urban centers, private facilities and hospitals, visually impaired people cannot access or afford eye treatment.

Vision and eye health care have been a major concern in the Philippines due to the high prevalence of eye diseases and disorders. Some common causes of blindness are cataracts, error of refraction and glaucoma. The country’s lack of access to basic eye care services is a significant challenge. Many Filipinos lack awareness of the importance of regular eye examinations that can help detect and treat eye diseases early on.

The Fred Hollows Foundation

In 2014, the Fred Hollows Foundation started working in the Philippines with the vision of developing a sustainable community eye health program. This program aimed to provide accessible, affordable and high-quality eye care services to Filipinos. The foundation supports the Department of Health (DOH) in building community eye health programs in 25 countries throughout Africa, South Asia, East Asia, the Middle East, Australia and the Pacific. Its priority is to strengthen the health system in the Philippines and work with communities in order to improve their eye health. The organization is achieving this goal through life-changing surgeries and treatments, training doctors and health workers and educating children in schools about visual impairment.

The Achievements of the Foundation

So far, the Fred Hollows Foundation has strengthened the health system of the Philippines by implementing eye health programs in local areas with the support of private health specialists, provincial governments and the DOH. In partnership with the Department of Education, it implemented many vision programs in schools, and this has resulted in vision screening and the supply of glasses to more than 400,000 children. In addition, the Fred Hollows Foundation performed 1,036 eye operations and treatments in 2019, including 325 cataract operations and 711 sight-improving measures. More than 4,000 people were trained in eye health, including teachers, community members, surgeons, clinic support staff and community health workers.

The foundation reached the nation’s poor and marginalized people through fair and inclusive initiatives, such as working with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and participating in their Family Development Sessions. The foundation has also worked with the National Commission for Indigenous People in order to reach Indigenous schools and communities, including poor Filipino families.

Looking Ahead

In the Philippines, blindness and visual impairment are growing public health concerns. While there has been some progress with regard to improving vision and eye care in the Philippines, the Fred Hollows Foundation continues working to ensure that all Filipinos have access to quality eye care services and to build a powerful eye health network with many partners and organizations.

– Lilit Natalia Manoukian
Photo: Flickr