Improving eye health in Sri Lanka

Will Wright
February 21, 2022

Eye  health is a major public heath challenge in Sri Lanka, particularly in rural  areas – primarily due to conditions of cataract, glaucoma and diabetic  retinopathy, which can lead to blindness. 

Eye  health has been a focus area in Sri Lanka’s health care system for a long  time, documented in the Vision 2020  Sri Lanka Programme. As stated by the International  Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, “good vision unlocks human  potential”.

Early  detection and treatment of eye conditions reduces vision impairment and  blindness leads to opportunities for education and employment, improves  quality of life and reduces poverty. 

Improving Eye Health in Sri Lanka aims to  address this challenge by providing equipment and training to improve the  diagnosis and treatment of complex eye diseases. In collaboration with Sri  Lankan partners, Sight For All, an Australian organisation, is supporting ophthalmologists  at eye units in provincial and district hospitals by:

  • establishing  a clinical teaching program for eye health workers, to better screen patients  for blindness risks
  • providing  eye-health equipment to regional areas to improve testing and diagnosis
  • running  public awareness campaigns to improve understanding about eye health and  causes of blindness.

This initiative is  supported by the Australian High Commission to Sri Lanka and Maldives through  a Knowledge and Linkages for an Inclusive Economy (KLIE) grant.

The KLIE grant mechanism facilitates partnerships  and relationships between Sri Lankan and Australian government agencies,  research institutions, civil society and professional networks.

The project supports the Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response,  by supporting health systems and preparedness.

Ophthalmologist with a patient in Sri Lanka. Image supplied by Sight for All

Sight  For All has been working in Sri Lanka to improve eye health since 2008, when  they conducted a childhood blindness study. The study found that a third of  all blindness was avoidable, and was primarily due to a lack of paediatric  ophthalmology facilities and advocacy in the country.

Improving Eye Health in Sri Lanka is  training eye health workers in Sri Lanka’s Regional Eye Units (REUs). The  project supports the diagnosis and treatment of eye conditions, including  glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.

The  project is also supporting the procurement and delivery of equipment for the  diagnosis and treatment of these complex eye diseases. Ophthalmologists are  being trained in the use of the equipment and participate in workshops to  develop their skills. In addition, ophthalmic nurses, eye health workers and  refractionists at the participating REUs will attend training and workshops  to provide sight-saving care.

The  project’s patient eye health awareness and education campaign involves the  dissemination of information about glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy via  brochures and posters distributed to participating hospitals.

Sight  For All is working closely with the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health, with the  purpose of forming strong partnerships on matters such as the sharing of data  and health system resourcing. 

Since  the launch of KLIE in 2018, this grant mechanism has supported nine  partnerships with a total of more than A$2.5 million.