Comprehensive eye care

Working together to provide eye care to everyone who needs it

Comprehensive eye care is about working with people across eye health systems – from medical professionals in regional hospitals to staff in rural health centres and members of local communities – to provide quality eye care to people in need.

It also means working with governments to influence the way eye health is administered at local and national levels. In 2020, we had to rethink rapidly how we delivered across all these touchpoints. But, despite the challenges presented by coronavirus, we still screened, treated and performed surgeries on over 4.6 million people.

House-to-house drug administration in Ethiopia during the pandemic.
House-to-house drug administration in Ethiopia during the pandemic.

South East Bangladesh

Three years ago, we established eye health services for Rohingya refugees and local communities in South East Bangladesh, our first humanitarian response project. In 2020, we completed phase one of our work through the Qatar Creating Vision initiative, paving the way for the next phase.

Working closely with our partners, we’ve been delighted to achieve all our project targets, carrying out 210,592 screenings of adults and children. What's more, as the leading eye health NGO in the Rohingya camps, Orbis Bangladesh led the coordination of the World Health Organization (WHO), UN agencies, the Red Cross and government bodies.

Shahed's cataract

A father's story

Shahed had a tough start in life. He was one of the thousands of Rohingya babies forced to leave their homes in Myanmar and seek refuge in Bangladesh. Like so many others, Shahed's family found themselves trying to rebuild their lives in a refugee camp.

But something else was wrong. Shahed wasn't responding to his parents' calls, and he struggled to walk. As his father describes, "even though we noticed the problem of Shahed's vision, we couldn't treat him. We thought it was a curse". Thanks to our project in Cox’s Bazar, Shahed was diagnosed with congenital cataracts in late 2019. He successfully received surgery on both eyes and was.

Shahed and his father.
Shahed and his father.

“I am happy now that his eyes are good, and he can see. I am grateful to all who have restored my son's vision.”

Shahed’s Father

Coronavirus meant Shahed's follow‑up treatment was in jeopardy.

But when coronavirus forced eye services to close, Shahed's follow-up treatment was in jeopardy. By April he had infectious conjunctivitis in his left eye. Without treatment, he would have faced more pain and further disruption to his home and school life.

Since the pandemic hit, Orbis has adapted to provide follow-up treatment in the camps via teleconsultation and help families treat patients in their homes – so children like Shahed can continue to receive expert care even under pandemic restrictions. As Shahed's father explained, "during lockdown, I went to the Ukhia Vision Centre twice according to the advice and continued medicine as prescribed".

Several months later, Shahed still receives follow-up care, but he's now back to his sporty self. His father can't hide his joy: "I am happy now that his eyes are good, and he can see. I am grateful to all who have restored my son's vision."

With nearly 40% of adults screened requiring treatment, demand for eye care has been far higher than anticipated across the project – reflecting a legacy of inadequate, underfunded healthcare among both the Rohingya and host populations. Between March and August 2020 access to the camps was severely restricted due to coronavirus, creating a backlog and driving demand even higher.

Since March, we've been working closely with the local government to prevent and control infection in eye health facilities during the pandemic. We also ran a highly successful Christmas appeal to support our partner, the Cox's Bazar Baitush Hospital (CBBSH), providing training, PPE and extra cleaning materials, and helping create socially distanced healthcare settings in the hospital.

Our work in South East Bangladesh has been the product of effective collaboration with other NGOs and the government. But it’s still only been possible to meet a quarter of the demand for eye care in Cox's Bazar. Due to our programme’s successes and ongoing need in the region, the project has been extended until 2023. We look forward to continuing this vital work.

“I am happy now that his eyes are good, and he can see. I am grateful to all who have restored my son's vision.”


Our work in Ethiopia spans more than 20 years. In that time, along with other NGOs and the Government of Ethiopia, we've taken significant steps towards eliminating trachoma as a public health problem. It’s especially important that we prevent trachomatous trichiasis (the advanced stage of trachoma in which the eyelid turns inwards, painfully scratching the cornea) because, if left untreated, it can lead to permanent blindness. To fight trachoma in Ethiopia, we carry out mass distributions of antibiotics, eye screenings and surgeries.

Last year, in the SNNPR Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region, social distancing restrictions meant that health workers could not be physically close enough to patients to examine them for clear signs of trachoma. Relying instead on their judgement, more people were referred to specialist eye care workers with suspected trachoma, increasing their caseloads. In one regional zone, we worked with the government to add eye health questions to door-to-door COVID-19 questionnaires – an ingenious socially distant screening method that helped maintain momentum with the screening programme. 

We also played a significant role in developing the Federal Ministry of Health's national Standard Operating Procedures, mandating PPE and house-to-house rather than clustered administration of drugs. These vital measures were time and resource-intensive but helped make sure we could administer antibiotics to entire populations, as required, while minimising the risk of coronavirus transmission. Despite not being able to start dispensing drugs until December, we still supported the delivery of more than 4.3 million sight-saving doses.

A local eye health worker preparing a girl for treatment in Ethiopia.