Beyond Sight: Navigating Challenges and Innovations in Eye Health

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Interview Chief Representative of the China Country Office of The Fred Hollows Foundation (Australia)

Globally, over 2.2 billion people are affected by either near or distance vision impairments. In at least 1 billion of these cases, vision impairment could have been prevented or remains unaddressed. Treatable or preventable conditions such as cataracts, trachoma, and diabetic retinopathy often lead to blindness. The primary obstacle is the lack of access to quality and affordable eye health services. Recently, China Development Brief (CDB) had the privilege of conducting an interview with Ms. Amanda Huang, the Chief Representative of the China Country Office of The Fred Hollows Foundation (Australia)

CDB: What inspired your dedication to blind prevention, and how has that motivation evolved over the years?

Amanda: Fortunately, I volunteered as an interpreter for a blindness prevention mission in my final university year. Experiencing NGOs positively impacting lives, particularly in eye care, left a profound impression. Transformative moments, like a 15-minute cataract surgery restoring sight or a cornea transplantation enabling a young girl’s return to school after chemical burns, motivate my two-decade journey. Witnessing successful eye surgeries, joyful reunions, and restored hope fuels my commitment. Acknowledgment from partners and stakeholders further motivates me. I draw inspiration from colleagues dedicated to bridging gaps in health and eye care rights.

CDB: How do you perceive the connection between blind prevention and broader social development?

Amanda: We often emphasize that without adequate eye health, the goal of achieving Universal Health Coverage remains unattainable, and the same holds true for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There is compelling evidence from various health and development studies to affirm that eye health is a pivotal cross-cutting development issue. Enhancing access to eye health services plays a crucial role in advancing numerous SDGs, including:

  • Enabling quality education and lifelong learning.
  • Supporting decent work and economic prosperity.
  • Promoting equity for women and girls, who are more prone to experiencing poor vision and less likely to receive treatment.
  • Reducing road traffic deaths and injuries.
  • Improving the health and well-being of all.

By prioritizing and improving eye health, we contribute to broader efforts aimed at building a more equitable, inclusive, sustainable, and resilient future for everyone.

CDB: Could you share a standout moment or achievement from your years working in blind prevention?

Amanda: As I mentioned earlier, there have been numerous standout moments for me throughout my years working in eye health. Witnessing both small and significant changes achieved through our projects has consistently reinforced the belief that every effort was worthwhile. This sense of fulfillment has been the driving force behind my determination to confront systemic barriers and create sustainable impacts. The ultimate goal is to ensure that even after our projects conclude, local communities possess the resources, capacity, networks, and systems necessary for the continued provision of high-quality, accessible, and affordable eye care services.

Over the decades of my work, many of my project partners and beneficiaries have evolved into close friends. We share a common vision and offer mutual encouragement and support in our ongoing journey of promoting eye care. This sense of camaraderie strengthens our collective commitment to making a lasting difference.

CDB: What challenges have you faced in this field, and how have you navigated them?

Amanda: As the years have progressed in the field of eye care, we have encountered an increasing array of challenges, particularly in a country as vast as China. Factors such as a large population, the aging demographic, changes in lifestyle, demanding school schedules, and competing public health priorities have compounded the difficulties in promoting eye health. Merely maintaining the current level of eye health outcomes is not feasible if we adhere to the same approaches.

To navigate these challenges, we recognize the necessity of a transformative shift in our strategies. Tripled resources and efforts are imperative, and we are adopting a systemic change approach to address these complex issues. Forming alliances with sectors beyond the traditional health domain is crucial for the integration of eye health. This involves leveraging political commitment and resources from private sectors to prioritize and invest in eye health initiatives. Only through such comprehensive efforts can we effectively meet the evolving challenges and ensure sustained progress in eye care.

CDB: What, in your view, are the key elements needed for sustainable and effective blind prevention programs?

Amanda: In the present day, discussions about eye health have transcended the simplicity of clinical or medical agendas, especially compared to the landscape two decades ago when I began my NGO journey. Eye health is now intricately woven into a more expansive social development agenda, necessitating leadership and commitment from government bodies at all levels. This governmental involvement is the most crucial element in ensuring the success of any effective and sustainable eye care program.

From an advocacy perspective, NGOs and social workers must adapt their approach to framing eye health. This involves connecting it to overarching themes such as health for all, development for women and children, improved educational outcomes, increased productivity, social and economic development, and environmental sustainability. Currently, our efforts are directed towards generating robust impact evidence to support and amplify the integration of eye health into all policies. This strategic shift is essential for fostering sustainable and effective blind prevention programs in the current landscape.

CDB: Looking ahead, what do you see as the next crucial steps or priorities in the realm of blind prevention, considering societal changes and technological advancements?

Amanda: Moving forward, breaking silos and fostering more alliances are imperative in the realm of blind prevention. Eye health workers must proactively expand their reach, think innovatively, leverage technologies, and seize every opportunity to advocate for eye health across diverse agendas. Recognizing that everyone, throughout their life cycle, will require at least one eye care service, emphasizes that eye health is a collective responsibility.

It is heartening to witness collaborative efforts by entities such as the UN, WHO, IAPB, and numerous international NGOs in setting strategic directions and global targets for eye health by 2030. The commitment from national governments to increase resources for eye health is a positive trend. Embracing innovations in partnerships, program delivery approaches, resource investments, the role of technologies in reaching the unreached, and the interpretation and utilization of data and evidence, I am confident that together, we can overcome numerous challenges and achieve remarkable progress in the next decade.

CDB: In conclusion, the interview highlights the interviewee’s profound dedication to blind prevention cultivated over two decades of NGO work. Their journey began with transformative volunteer experiences during university, leading to a lifelong commitment to improving eye health. Amanda Huang emphasizes the evolving nature of eye health, particularly in addressing challenges in China, and underscores the need for a broader societal approach with strong government leadership.

Looking forward, Amanda advocates for breaking silos, embracing technology, and fostering alliances to advocate for eye health on various fronts. Positive global trends, including collaborative efforts and increased governmental commitment, inspire confidence in achieving significant progress in blind prevention over the next decade. Overall, Amanda’s insights provide a glimpse into the evolving landscape of eye care and the strategies needed for sustained and effective programs.

In Brief

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