Australia helps reduce blindness in Laos

Media release

18 February 2013

Foreign Minister Bob Carr today announced a new $1 million avoidable blindness initiative in Laos during his visit to the Vientiane Ophthalmology Centre.

Senator Carr said Australian support will include the delivery of primary eye care, training for nurses, eye doctors and ophthalmologists, as well as provision of equipment for testing.

“Assistance will be delivered through experienced Australian eye care non-government organisations (NGOs).

“We will also send two Australian volunteers to support Laos’ institutions, so that problems are detected early before people needlessly lose their sight.

“Restoring a person’s vision has immediate and significant benefits for those who suffer blindness and for those who care for them.

“Girls and women are most often called on to sacrifice education, employment and mobility to care for a blind relative.

“When vision is restored in instances like this, then the enrolment of girls in schools goes up.

“The national rate of blindness in Laos is around one per cent and the rate in rural areas is estimated to be up to five-times higher.

“65 per cent of Laos’ population live in rural areas without access to basic services,” Senator Carr said.

Eye care services lack sufficient funding, trained health workers and appropriate equipment.

Access to services that are available is often made difficult due to the distances between villages and clinics.

Australian NGOs have the advantage of being present in many rural locations across Laos and are well placed to support better access to community-based services.

Funding announced by Senator Carr will be provided over the next two financial years, 2013/14 and 2014/15.

“Avoidable blindness is a significant global health problem which hinders development and disproportionately impacts the poor, yet much of it can be prevented or treated,” Senator Carr said.

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