Press Release: New Study from Orbis International Shows Urgency of Eye Care Access in Refugee Communities

March 2020

The study represents one of the largest published datasets on refugee eye health

NEW YORK, March 31, 2020 – Today Orbis International released a new study demonstrating the demand for comprehensive eye services in refugee settings and providing a roadmap for other organizations doing similar work. The study was published in a special issue of peer-reviewed medical journal PLOS Medicine focusing on refugee and migrant health.

Following an outbreak of violence in August 2017, over 742,000 Rohingya, members of a stateless Muslim minority, fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh, making Kutupalong refugee settlement in Cox’s Bazar the world’s largest. Since February 2018, thanks to support from the Qatar Fund for Development, 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 in southeast Bangladesh.

Orbis has been working with partners to deliver eye care for the Rohingya community

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. “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.”


PLOS Medicine journal on refugee and migrant health

Read here

Orbis 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 (the need for glasses) and unoperated cataract. Particularly striking was that people presenting with operable cataract was three- to six-fold higher among working-aged Rohingya (18 to 59 years) than the host population; 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 Rohingya 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.

Screening a young Rohingya refugee in Cox's Bazar

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 underscores 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 pediatric ophthalmology as well as the treatment of cataract, glaucoma, diabetic eye disease, and more.


About Orbis International

Orbis is a leading global non-governmental organization that has been a pioneer in the prevention and treatment of avoidable blindness for nearly four decades. Orbis transforms lives by delivering the skills, resources and knowledge needed to deliver accessible quality eye care. Working in collaboration with local partners, including hospitals, universities, government agencies and ministries of health, Orbis provides hands-on ophthalmology training, strengthens healthcare infrastructure and advocates for the prioritization of eye health on public health agendas. Orbis operates the world's only Flying Eye Hospital, a fully accredited ophthalmic teaching hospital on board an MD-10 aircraft, and an award-winning telemedicine platform, Cybersight.

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Kristin Taylor
Associate Director, Global Marketing and Communications