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Rohingyas need urgent eye care access: Study -The Asian Age

A study has found that the number of people with operable cataract is three- to six-fold higher among working-aged Rohingya refugees, who have taken shelter in southern Bangladesh, than the host population.

It also found that among the more than 68,000 people who received services during the study, the vast majority of vision loss was due to refractive error and unoperated cataract. 

Orbis International conducted the study and the findings were published in a special issue of peer-reviewed medical journal PLOS Medicine recently.

The report demonstrated the demand for comprehensive eye services in refugee settings and providing a roadmap for other organisations doing similar work. 

It observed that the burden among adults in their peak working years -- 18 to 29 – “was especially noteworthy”.
 
Cataract surgery is among the most cost-effective interventions in healthcare, according to a World Bank report.
 
A random sampling of Rohingyas who had cataract removed showed excellent surgical outcomes when benchmarked against a large online database of other global users, using an application co-developed by Orbis.

Following an outbreak of violence in August 2017, over 742,000 Rohingya fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh, making Kutupalong refugee settlement in Cox’s Bazar the world’s largest.

Since February 2018, Orbis and partner Cox’s Bazar Baitush Sharaf Hospital have been providing vision screenings, glasses, and cataract surgery for children and adults in the Rohingya population and surrounding host communities with support from the Qatar Fund for Development.

The Orbis’s study, which represents one of the largest published datasets on refugee eye health, highlighted the heavy burden of eye disease among the Rohingya, but even more importantly, their unexpectedly high demand for service.

“The demand for eye care services was significantly higher than we anticipated,” said Dr. Munir Ahmed, Country Director of Orbis International Bangladesh. 

He said, “It is perhaps not surprising that we saw high volumes of patients among these chronically underserved displaced and host communities who had unoperated cataract or who needed glasses but did not have them. 

“But the very high uptake of service in this program – fully 60% of those aged 60 and over in the targeted Rohingya community – is truly extraordinary when you think about the many health priorities they face. It underscores the potential for eye care to build resilience in such refugee populations.”

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has reported that the global number of displaced people has reached 70 million, the highest on record. 

While addressing life-threatening conditions, such as infectious disease outbreaks and malnutrition, remains the greatest priority in humanitarian response, Orbis’s study responds to a growing understanding that addressing non-life-threatening needs can improve the resilience of displaced communities, helping them better survive and thrive under demanding conditions. 

The study also underscored how improving vision among host communities not only enhances their own well-being, but can also help build their capacity to support displaced populations in their midst.

Orbis’s work in southeast Bangladesh is an extension of a partnership between Orbis and the Qatar Fund for Development. Thanks to their vital support, Orbis has been able to work with local partners to deliver more than 127,000 eye screenings and nearly 52,000 treatments to the Rohingya population and host communities in two years. 

Orbis’s sight-saving work in these vulnerable communities builds on a long history of collaboration in Bangladesh, including providing training for eye care professionals on paediatric ophthalmology as well as the treatment of cataract, glaucoma, diabetic eye disease, and more.