Comprehensive eye care

Comprehensive eye care is about working with people throughout eye health systems – government officials, medical professionals in regional hospitals, staff in rural health centres and members of local communities – to provide eye care for people who need it, wherever they are.

Making eye care available to people in urgent need remained challenging in 2021. Donor budget cuts and ongoing pandemic restrictions made reaching people hard. But through the determination of our partners and by adapting to a fast-changing situation, we managed to achieve some remarkable results.

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


We have a longstanding commitment to eliminating trachoma as a public health problem in Ethiopia. If left untreated, repeated trachoma infections can develop into trachomatous trichiasis (TT), where the eyelid turns inwards, scraping painfully against the cornea. Ultimately, it can lead to irreversible blindness. Early in the year, cuts to the UK foreign aid budget left several million people in urgent need of antibiotics to prevent trachoma.

But, through additional funding provided by Sightsavers, Orbis Ethiopia successfully distributed 8,127,635 doses, nearly 50% more than their target. And they ensured every dose was administered in a Covid secure way. Trachoma remains the second major cause of blindness and the third major cause of low vision in Ethiopia. But trachoma impact surveys show the difference Orbis, in partnership with the Ethiopian government and other groups, is making. 

Nearly half the 155 woredas (districts) in which Orbis UK funds programmes now show reduced infection levels. No further mass drug administration (MDA) is required in 33, and in five, no surgeries are required either. Trachoma is a highly infectious condition that can devastate people, families and communities. In 2021, Orbis partners took significant steps toward eliminating trachoma as a public health problem.

Working with partners to provide eye care everywhere, for everyone

Zamir's story

Zamir's story

Zamir was in his 30s when his eyesight started to deteriorate. And over two years, he became unable to see anything very well.

He explained, “the problem rendered me out of work as no one was hiring me anymore for my failing to maintain the quality of work”.

Zamir lives in the remote Ukhiya subdistrict of Cox’s Bazar in South East Bangladesh. He’s a mason by trade, and his income supports his wife and two children.

Masonry is a good job for Zamir – although he’s from a rural community, he has no land. And the fast-growing city of Cox’s Bazar provides lots of opportunities for building work.

Zamir working as a mason
Urgently needing to provide for his family, he turned to his savings. But they soon ran out. Even if he could access eye care services, Zamir knew he wouldn’t be able to afford treatment.

The arrival of more than 1 million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar has put overwhelming pressure on health services in Cox’s Bazar.

Since 2018, Orbis has worked with partners and the Cox’s Bazar Baitush Sharaf Hospital (CBBSH) to support the eye care needs of the refugees and host population alike.

Zamir’s friends directed him to the Ukhiya Vision Centre, where he was diagnosed with cataracts in both eyes and referred to the CBBSH for surgery.

To his great delight and surprise, the operation, medication and glasses were all free.

“I did not pay a single penny for the surgery. What I paid for my eye treatment is the taka 3 (3 pence) that I spent to buy a ticket at Ukhiya the first day I visited the health facility.”

With his eyesight fully restored, Zamir is now happily back working again. He’s especially grateful to have received eye care in his community, as he explained:

“I don’t know what would have happened to me hadn’t they facilitated eye care services in my area. I might have remained blind and without work for the rest of my life.”


In 2018, we ensured eye care was a key pillar of the healthcare response to the refugee crisis in South-East Bangladesh. 

Since the political situation in Myanmar forced the Rohingya community to flee, more than 1 million Myanmar nationals have settled in the camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Most live day-to-day in basic shelters with only essential facilities, and many urgently need eye care for conditions including cataract, glaucoma and refractive error. 

In 2020, Orbis Bangladesh led the coordination of aid agencies in making eye care accessible to communities in the refugee camps and across Cox’s Bazar district. 

This year, we focused on training more frontline health workers to raise awareness of eye health and refer people to the local Cox’s Bazar Baitush Sharaf Hospital (CBBSH) and its two Vision Centres. 

Adapting to ongoing pandemic restrictions, Orbis partners went house-to-house to conduct screenings and administer treatments. We’re pleased to report that our approach is working well and early results have been extremely positive. So much so that the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has invited Orbis Bangladesh to provide technical support in developing the eye health facilities in a new hospital.


The number of people who are blind or visually impaired in Vietnam has decreased significantly since we first began working with local eye health teams in 1996. 

But there are still 520,000 people who are blind. In most countries, the pandemic most severely affected our work in early 2021. 

But in Vietnam, restrictions only affected our community outreach activities from mid-May onwards. Our partners still managed to screen more than two-thirds of the target number of people for diabetic retinopathy.

And we’re pleased to be able to fund the project’s continuation in 2022 so it can fully reach its aims.

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