World's First Low-Income Country to Provide Eye Care for All

Arts studio in Rwanda | © Francisco Anzola / Flickr
Arts studio in Rwanda | © Francisco Anzola / Flickr
Photo of Leah Feiger
20 February 2018

Over the past few years, Rwanda’s creative and forward-thinking health initiatives have been the talk of the region. From drones that transport blood for transfusions in remote areas of the country to improved health education, this small East African nation is making big moves in healthcare. Now, Rwanda has become the world’s first low-income country to provide universal eye care.

The Rwandan government has partnered with Vision for a Nation (VFAN) to provide eye care for all citizens. According to The Independent, over a third of Rwandans would benefit from eye care, with needs including eyeglasses as well as major surgeries. VFAN assisted in the training of over 3,000 eye-care nurses spread over 502 local health centers, providing prescriptions for glasses and referring serious problems to national clinics.

VFAN nurses have visited all 15,000 of Rwanda’s villages, and have found that approximately 80% of eye-related problems in Rwanda have to do with shortsightedness.

Glasses | © AL.Eyad / Flickr

Additionally, a lack of access to eye care has been linked to economic hardship across the region, with older individuals losing their vision and no longer being able to work to provide for themselves or their families. Tony Hulton, the Chief Executive of VFAN, said, “We’re not going to fully allow countries to reach their full potential [and move] out of poverty without eye care.”

The current Rwandan healthcare system is fairly progressive and has been hailed as one of the best on the continent. Universal healthcare, called Mutuelles de Santé, has been available to all Rwandans since 2003. The quality of Rwandan healthcare continues to rise, and the country is currently on track to complete sustainable development goals related to maternal and child health. As yet another jewel in Rwanda’s health-oriented crown, this new eye care policy is groundbreaking.

Diane Gashumba, the Rwandan Minister of Health, commented on the new policy and the VFAN partnership, saying, “Rwanda is leading the way in Africa by providing all its people with affordable eye care… The impact of this initiative has been enormous.”

To follow up their successful Rwandan work, VFAN plans to expand their life-changing initiative to Ghana.

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