Eye technician programme at the KGUMS to resume from next month

Dechen Tshomo

To eradicate avoidable blindness, 171,424 school children were screened for eye problems in the last eight months.

About 10,000 pediatric spectacles have been distributed with additional 4,000 glasses, which needed to be customised during the same period.

This programme is a part of the health ministry’s collaboration with Essilor International, a French-based international ophthalmic optics company that designs, manufactures and markets lenses to correct or protect eyesight.

Health minister Dechen Wangmo said with all the school children screened, the programme would reach out to the unreached population, through targeted programmes.

The partnership began with Essilor’s commitment to donate around 400,000 pairs of corrective eyewear and sunglasses, which were to be dispensed via existing healthcare programmes.

A letter of Intent was signed between the health ministry and Essilor and the Central Monastic Body to sustainably strengthen the country’s eye care programme and eradicate unprotected and uncorrected poor vision on December 7, 2018.

The partnership between Essilor and Bhutan, under the patronage of Her Majesty the Royal Grandmother Kesang Choeden Wangchuck was officially launched in May last year.

It was launched with the ultimate goal to make Bhutan the first country in the world to eradicate avoidable poor vision. This would be achieved through the distribution of free corrective eyewear and capacity building of health workers on basic diagnosis and treatment of uncorrected poor vision.

“To have achieved our target, almost 100 percent for screening school children, I would like to extend my gratitude to our programme, health workers across the country and our partners in believing in us,” the health minister said. “We are striving towards becoming the first country in the region to have eradicated avoidable blindness”

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

According to the Annual Health Bulletin 2019, about 796 patients with cataract were reported in 2018, about 202 more than the previous year. The number of cases excludes OPD cases from the national referral hospital and two military hospitals in Haa and Thimphu.

Similarly, 4,470 cases of disorders of refraction and accommodation (refractive error in the eye), an increase of 1,952 than the previous year (2017) were reported in the same year.

The minister said building the workforce is equally important. “Through this programme we have trained 200 health assistants on basic eye screening and care.”

“With the Kesang Choeden Wangchuck National Eye Hospital in the country, we are working towards providing state of the art eye services in country working with our partners, Himalayan Cataract foundation and Wen Giving Foundation.”

The eye technician programme at the Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan (KGUMS) would be re-started soon to build human resources to cater to the growing demand. The programme closed a few years ago.

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

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