Laos Eye Care Program Offers Free Treatment Amidst Health Worker Shortage

Laos Eye Care Program Offers Free Treatment Amidst Health Worker Shortage
Health experts conducting free eye examination for patients (photo: Vientiane Mai)

The Ophthalmology Center in Vientiane Capital, in partnership with the Singapore National Eye Center, is hosting a free eye treatment program from 18 to 22 March in Thongpong village, Sikhottabong district. The initiative aims to provide free eye tests and cataract surgeries to individuals in need.

A notice released on 13 March details the schedule for the free eye treatment program. From 18 to 19 March, the Ophthalmology Center will offer complimentary eye examinations for individuals with cataracts, a common condition characterized by the clouding of the lens of the eye. 

Cataracts are prevalent among people over the age of 60 and are more likely to occur in individuals with diabetes, those who have experienced eye injuries, or those with a family history of cataracts. Symptoms of cataracts include hazy, blurry, or less colorful vision, which can significantly impact one’s quality of life.

Following the eye examinations, the center will provide free cataract surgeries from 20 to 22 March. Cataract surgery is a safe and effective procedure that involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with an artificial lens. This surgical intervention can restore vision and improve the overall quality of life for individuals affected by cataracts.

The free eye treatment program is part of the annual commemoration of joint operations between the Ophthalmology Center and the Singapore National Eye Center. A similar initiative was conducted in 2019, when the Ophthalmology Center, sponsored by the Fred Hollows Foundation, a non-profit aid organization based in Sydney, Australia, provided free eye treatment, including cataract surgeries, to disadvantaged students in Vientiane schools to commemorate World Sight Day. The event was well-received, with many students, their parents, and other local residents benefiting from the services offered.

Apart from the Ophthalmology Center in Vientiane Capital, The Ophthalmology Surgical Department of the Bolikhamxay Province also delivers eye health services for the whole province, composed of 7 district hospitals and 41 health centers. These two institutes are among several medical centers that provide eye treatment.

The number of trained eye care practitioners in Laos has increased in recent years, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed challenges to the delivery of eye care services, particularly in remote districts, leading to a reduction in hospital consultations and drastically affecting the provision of eye care services by mobile teams. 

Although the pandemic has receded and the overall healthcare situation has improved since early 2023, the global shortage of health workers remains a critical issue. Nurses and midwives, comprising over 50 percent of the current health worker shortage, are particularly affected. This shortage extends to the eye care sector, highlighting substantial unmet demand for ophthalmic nurses and doctors, especially in low- and lower-middle-income countries.

Chronic eye diseases such as cataracts and glaucoma are increasingly becoming the leading causes of blindness and visual impairment among elderly individuals worldwide. As the population continues to age, addressing eye care needs and ensuring access to quality eye care services becomes progressively crucial.