With the signing of the letter of intent (LoI) in Thimphu yesterday, health ministry has partnered with Essilor International to eradicate poor vision in Bhutan.

Essilor International is the world’s leading ophthalmic optics company.

Director general of the department of medical services, Dr Pandup Tshering, said that signing of the LoI gave an opportunity for the ministry to work closely together to strengthen the eye care services in the country.

Cataract and refractive error are some of the leading causes of visual impairment in the country.

Essilor will donate 400,000 pairs of eyeglasses to the ministry, which will be distributed to the Bhutanese over the course of the partnership.

Essilor International’s chief mission officer, Jayanth Bhuvaraghan, said that uncorrected poor vision affects one in three people, making it the world’s largest unaddressed disability.

“This donation will be sufficient to provide first-time eyewear to all Bhutanese suffering from uncorrected refractive errors, estimated to be about 25 percent of the population, and those living at very high altitudes exposed to high levels of UVA/UVB and in need of protection,” he said.

Essilor would also focus on creating sustainable systems to ensure continued impact. Essilor together with the ministry will work on developing a nationwide awareness campaign to sensitise people about the need for vision correction and protection and the life-changing benefits it can have.

It would also help in strengthening the capacity of health professionals on vision care through the help of Essilor’s globally successful training programmes and tools.

Jayanth Bhuvaraghan said that the eyewear company would create micro vision entrepreneurs for optical dispensing, support in developing the National Eye Health Strategic Plan (2018 – 2024), and also train monks to provide screenings and forming a relevant network.

Essilor International also signed a LoI with the Central Monastic Body for collaboration in eye care.

“Bhutan and Essilor’s partnership will create Bhutan the first nation in the world to eradicate poor vision,” he said.

Health officials said that the partnership was possible due to the guidance of Her Majesty the Royal Grand Mother Kesang Choeden Wangchuck.

Chairman and chief executive officer of Essilor, Hubert Sagnieres, said poor vision affected every aspect of a person’s life, impacting their ability to learn, work, live independently, and to realise their full potential.

“We are proud to be collaborating with the Bhutanese government to develop a strategy and actions which will see poor vision eradicated from the country,” Hubert Sagnieres said. “This will bring further prosperity and happiness to its people and Essilor one important step closer to its ambition of eradicating poor vision worldwide within one generation.”

Primary eye care services in the country were provided since 1987.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said the country did have challenges including the affordability aspect of the eyeglasses, especially for the socially and economically disadvantaged population. “So, we are extremely happy that this initiative had taken place.”

Dr Pandup Tshering said that the eye care service in the country is fully integrated with the general health system and the service is delivered through three-tier system – primary, secondary, and tertiary.

Primary Eye Care Programme under the Department of Medical Service is responsible for planning, coordinating and monitoring of eye care activities in the country.

Dechen Tshomo