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Work underway to develop national eye health plan

Saturday, April 06, 2019

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KINGSTON, Jamaica — Work is underway by the technical working group developing the Government's proposed national eye health plan.

The group was established in 2017 by Health Minister, Dr Christopher Tufton, to provide policy and strategic direction for the prevention of blindness and visual impairment, in keeping with the World Health Organisation's (WHO) Universal Eye Health Global Action Plan.

“The group has been doing some work. In fact, I met with them a few weeks ago and [they] are working towards drafting a… plan which will provide, not just the strategic direction, but outline a number of initiatives which, over time, we will develop towards making the process more efficient and effective,” he said.

The minister was speaking during a ceremony at the Kingston Public Hospital yesterday to mark this year's visit by the People's Republic of China's 'Bright Journey' Eye Care Medical Mission.

Meanwhile, Dr Tufton said the ministry is working towards improving the framework for eye healthcare.

“We are [examining] clinical audits to look at the institutionalisation of measures within our hospital system, certification... and other measures, to deal with improving the process going forward,” he said.

Noting that the major causes of blindness in Jamaica and the Caribbean are: cataract, uncorrected refractive error and glaucoma, the minister emphasised that “we have to develop the capacity to deal with these areas”.

Dr Tufton said the latest data indicates that there are approximately 4,000 Jamaicans awaiting cataract surgery.

“This brings into sharp focus this particular initiative and the value it will bring in dealing with some of the backlog that we currently have,” the minister said.

He highlighted the protracted delays experienced by many people needing urgent eye care, adding that “if we agree that 80 per cent of persons who lose their sight globally are at risk primarily because of lack of prevention, screening and treatment, we have to find a way to shorten that wait by building out our capacity to screen and treat as required”.

For his part, China's Ambassador to Jamaica Tian Qi, said assistance extended under the mission will serve to brighten the lives of the beneficiaries and strengthen the partnership between Jamaica and China.

The initiative will, this year, facilitate cataract surgeries for some 500 Jamaicans and provide US$500,000 worth of additional equipment and supplies to the KPH.

This is the mission's second visit to Jamaica, following representatives' arrival in May 2015.

On that occasion, more than 200 Jamaicans benefitted from free cataract surgeries at the KPH, while the hospital received medical equipment and supplies valued US$400,000.

The Chinese Government has been sending medical teams to developing countries since 1963.

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