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