The Problem

  • Cataract accounts for at least 50% of China’s blind, or around 2.5 million people.
  • People living in the low-income area of rural Guangdong do not have access to cataract surgery services.
  • According to the Refractive Error Survey in Guangzhou, fully one-third of school-aged Chinese children did not have necessary corrective glasses.

What HKI Is Doing

In 1988, Helen Keller International initiated a partnership with the Zhongshan Ophthalmic Center (ZOC) to treat cataract. Current programs include:

Cataract Surgery
Helen Keller International addresses the enormous backlog of cataract blind in China by improving access to affordable, high-quality cataract surgery and services for low-income residents. In rural Guangdong Province, we collaborate with the Zhongshan Ophthalmic Center (ZOC) to develop properly-equipped surgical facilities that meet international standards; provide clinical training to enhance surgical skills and better patient outcomes; and improve clinic management practices to increase surgical productivity. In addition, to enable poor patients to access cataract surgery and services, we engage in community outreach and have adopted a high-volume, low-cost service delivery model.

With the support of HKI and ZOC, three rural county hospitals in Yangjiang, Yangchun and Huidong achieved notable improvements in surgical volume and quality while reducing the cost of cataract surgery. For example in Yangjiang, the hospital increased four-fold the number of cataract surgeries it provided per year. The quality of surgery improved with 85% of patients meeting the WHO-approved standard of excellent post-operative vision. And, the average cost of cataract surgery was reduced by 90%, from $650 to $65.

HKI recently established a formal Rural Cataract Surgical Training Program at ZOC which has further improved the accessibility, affordability and quality of cataract services offered to Guangdong’s rural poor. Over the past two years, the program has trained and provided ongoing support to approximately 50 surgeons.

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Refractive Error
In collaboration with the US National Eye Institute and the World Health Organization (WHO), HKI completed a Refractive Error Survey in Guangzhou to determine the prevalence of and risk factors for refractive error, particularly myopia, in Chinese schoolchildren. Fully one-third of the children did not have the necessary corrective glasses.

Helen Keller International has established a school-based primary eye health program, ChildSight®, in impoverished communities in Guangzhou, the capital city of Guangdong Province. ChildSight® is based on HKI’s highly successful, school-based refractive error program in the United States.  Over the past two years, HKI conducted 49 intensive training workshops for 1,052 teachers to teach them how to perform basic visual acuity tests, and identify the signs and symptoms of vision health problems, such as low vision and refractive error. These teachers provided on-site vision screenings for almost 43,000 students in 52 target schools. Students who needed eyeglasses selected their frames from an on-site assortment of colors and styles, and an off-site optical lab assembled the glasses. Almost 5,000 students received new glasses through the program.

HKI is also establishing a training program to develop a cadre of refractionists who have the skills to offer services in both urban and rural areas of China where there are limited resources; so far 48 doctors and nurses have attended workshops to improve their skills.

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