Regional eye health care in Sri Lanka

Sight For All is excited to commence a new project, entitled ‘Improving Eye Health in Sri Lanka’. This project is supported by the Australian High Commission to Sri Lanka and Maldives through a Knowledge and Linkages for an Inclusive Economy Grant.

Eye health has been a focus area in Sri Lanka’s health care system for a long time, documented in the Vision 2020 Sri Lanka Programme. As stated by the IAPB, “Good vision unlocks human potential” as improved eye health has positive impact on wellbeing, educational attainment, increased workforce contribution and community participation.

The challenge and our solution
Identifying a need to provide training, equipment and support, Sight For All has commenced a new project to upskill eye health workers in Sri Lanka’s Regional Eye Units (REUs). This will support the diagnosis and treatment of eye conditions, including glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.

The project involves the procurement and delivery of equipment for the diagnosis and treatment of these complex eye diseases. Ophthalmologists will be trained in the use of the equipment and participate in workshops to further develop their skills. In addition, ophthalmic nurses, eye health workers and refractionists at the participating REUs will attend the training and workshops to provide sight-saving care.

A patient eye health awareness and education component will be incorporated into the project. This will include the dissemination of information about glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy via brochures and posters distributed to the participating hospitals.

Sustainability is a cornerstone of the project and includes an advocacy component. This will involve the Sight For All Sri Lankan Project Officer liaising with Ministry of Health and the Government of Sri Lanka, with the purpose of forming strong partnerships and advocating on matters such as the sharing of data and health system resourcing.

This project has the capacity to help thousands of patients each year across the country, to provide essential eye health care for the Sri Lankan population well into the future.

Eye Health in Sri Lanka
With a population of more than 21 million, the vast majority (81.2%) of Sri Lanka’s population live in rural areas. The importance of regional health care is undeniable and this includes the delivery of quality and accessible eye health care.

According to the 2014-15 National Survey of Blindness in Sri Lanka adults over the age of 40, cataract is the most common cause of blindness, whilst uncorrected refractive error impacts 12.5% of the population.

In addition, 13.8% of the population stated they knew they had diabetes, a condition that is escalating at an alarming rate, creating a global public health crisis. The most common form of vision loss for people with diabetes is diabetic retinopathy[1]; a potentially blinding condition and the leading cause of blindness among working-age populations in the developed world[2]. In Sri Lanka, the risk of diabetic retinopathy among diabetic patients is 31.3% but this figure would have regional variations due to differences in socio-economic conditions and access to health care[3].

Our work in Sri Lanka
Sight For All’s involvement in Sri Lanka commenced in 2008 when a childhood blindness study was conducted. The study found that over 1/3 of all blindness was avoidable, and was primarily due to a lack of paediatric ophthalmology facilities and advocacy in the country. To address this, Sight For All trained the second Paediatric Ophthalmologist for the country (Dr Tavisha Udupihille), and with the support of a Direct Aid Program (DAP) grant, Sight For All equipped a Paediatric Eye Unit at the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Specialised Children’s Hospital (SBSCH).

Since then, a second Paediatric Eye Unit in Sri Lanka was established, at the Jaffna Teaching Hospital as well as providing sub-specialty training in Adelaide, Australia for 7 retinal doctors (3 female and 4 male).

This project is supported by the Australian High Commission to Sri Lanka and Maldives through a Knowledge and Linkages for an Inclusive Economy Grant.


[1] National Eye Institute: Eye Conditions and Diseases – Diabetic Retinopathy, https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/diabetic-retinopathy#:~:text=Diabetic%20retinopathy%20is%20the%20most,more%20likely%20to%20develop%20cataracts.

[2] Zheng, Y., He, M., & Congdon, N. (2012). The worldwide epidemic of diabetic retinopathy. Indian journal of ophthalmology60(5), 428.

[3] Rizath, M., Dias, J., Mohammed, H., Ilahi, M. and Razmy, A. (2015) Prevalence of Diabetic Retinopathy among Diabetics: A Hospital Based Study at Ashraff Memorial Hospital, Kalmunai. Open Access Library Journal, 2, 1-5. doi: 10.4236/oalib.1102230.

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