New Study Reveals High Demand for Eye Care among Rohingya Community

April 2020

A new study by Orbis released in the peer-reviewed medical journal PLOS Medicine demonstrates a high demand for eye services in refugee settings, particularly among those in their peak working years who could contribute most to their community.

Following an outbreak of violence in August 2017 over 742,000 Rohingya, members of a stateless Muslim minority, fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh - making the Kutupalong refugee settlement in Cox's Bazar the world's largest.

Thanks to support from the Qatar Fund for Development and Baitush Sharaf Eye Hospital we have been providing vision screenings, glasses, and cataract surgery for children and adults in the Rohingya population and surrounding host communities in southeast Bangladesh since February 2018.

Orbis's work in southeast Bangladesh is part 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.

The study, undertaken by Orbis and partner Baitush Sharaf Eye Hospital in Cox's Bazar took place between February 2018 and March 2019. In this time over 48,000 Rohingya and more than 20,000 local residents underwent vision screening at vision centers in the camp and surrounding districts.

The results of the screenings showed that blindness was three-to-six times more prevalent in the Rohingya population compared to the local residents. Rohingyan patients ages 18-39, peak working age in the community, suffered blindness at a rate more than three times the local residents - highlighting the economic stress and heavy burden of eye disease among the Rohingya population.

PLOS Medicine: read the study here

Read more

The study also showed that as well as the need, the actual demand for eye care was higher than expected despite the presence of many competing needs. A high proportion of Rohingya in their 20s to 40s were found to have significant cataract, a problem which can be rectified with a fairly straightforward surgical procedure. Saving the sight of people of prime working age can have a real impact on the well-being of the community, the study found.

"The demand for eye care services was significantly higher than we anticipated," said Dr. Munir Ahmed, Country Director of Orbis International Bangladesh. "It is perhaps not surprising that we saw high volumes of patients among these chronically under-served displaced and host communities who had 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."

But the very high uptake of service in this program 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.

It was particularly noteworthy that the adults in peak working years were suffering from a high rate of operable cataract.

Cataract surgery is one of the most cost-effective procedures in healthcare, according to a World Bank report. A random sampling of Rohingya who had cataract removed displayed excellent surgical outcomes when shown against a large online database of other global users, using an application co-developed by Orbis.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has reported that there are a record 70 million displaced people globally.

While addressing conditions such as malnutrition and infectious disease remains the highest priority, Orbis's study shows that addressing non-life-threatening needs can help displaced communities to thrive.

The study also demonstrates how improving vision among host communities can also help build their capacity to support displaced populations in their midst.

Our experience in Cox’s Bazar underscores the heavy burden of treatable vision impairment and potential to restore sight with low-cost treatments. Perhaps our most important discovery, however, is the striking demand for eye care services in the Rohingya population, despite a host of other competing social and healthcare needs.

We'd like to say a big thank you to our partners, sponsors and supporters for making this study, and our continuing work in cox's Bazar, possible. We are committed to improving access to quality eye care for people all around the world - especially where it can make the biggest difference.

Donate Today

Help fund Orbis's sight-saving programs in Cox's Bazar