According to the data published by the World Health Organization in the “Global strategy on human resources for health: Workforce 2030”, there is a global shortage of health workers, mostly in low-and lower-middle-income countries, with nurses and midwives representing over 50% of the current shortage in health workers. This shortage of health workers equally affects the eye care sector, showing an important unmet demand for ophthalmic nurses and doctors. As the population worldwide is aging, chronic eye diseases such as cataract and glaucoma are becoming the leading causes of blindness and visual impairment amongst elderly men and women.
In Laos, despite the increasing number of trained eye care practitioners over the last years, it was observed that eye care services were less attended in 2020 and 2021, in parallel with the general reduction in hospital consultations, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has severely affected the provision of eye care services by mobile teams in remote districts, thereby increasing the risk of permanent vision loss due to the postponement of essential eye care.
The Director of the National Ophthalmology Center (NOC), Dr Khamkhoun Hosavanh, handed over a certificate to an ophthalmic nurse during the ophthalmology nursing graduation ceremony at the NOC in Vientiane capital (June 2021). © LuxDev
The Lao-Luxembourg Health Sector Support Programme Phase II (LAO/027) has established a long-standing collaboration with the Ministry of Health and the University of Health Sciences to identify and support human resource development needs in the health sector.
In particular, the LAO/027 programme is collaborating with the National Ophthalmology Center in Vientiane capital and with The Fred Hollows Foundation (FHF) to develop the ophthalmology care capacity in the three provinces of Vientiane, Bolikhamxay and Khammouane. Since 2018, under a service agreement with the FHF, the LAO/027 programme is supporting the provision of upgrading and clinical specialization programmes for eye care and is offering various short- and long-term scholarships to provide additional training to eye nurses and specialist doctors.
Investing in people
The delivery of quality ophthalmic care directly depends on adequate training of specialized staff. To meet the training needs for eye care nursing in Laos, a short-term training programme was specifically designed for qualified nurses to strengthen the provision of healthcare and the management of people with ophthalmic diseases.
On 22 June 2021, thirteen ophthalmology nurses have successfully completed a four-months training programme as ophthalmic nurses at the National Ophthalmology Center in the Vientiane capital, with ten graduates from the provincial and district hospitals of Khammouane (2), Bolikhamxay (4) and Vientiane (4) provinces supported by the LAO/027 programme.
This brings the total number of scholarships offered by Luxembourg to upgrade the qualifications and capacities of ophthalmology nurses to thirty-one (21 female and 10 male ophthalmic nurses) between 2018 and 2021.
Ophthalmic nursing graduation ceremony at the National Ophthalmology Center (June 2021). © LuxDev
This training programme covers every aspect of ophthalmic nursing, including the physiology of the eye, diseases that affect the eye, clinical management, and the complexities of managing people with a variety of eye disorders. After the training programme, the ophthalmology nurses are posted in provincial and district hospitals to provide basic eye care services and to raise awareness among their communities on avoidable blindness through community outreach activities.
Besides the short-term Ophthalmic nursing programme, the LAO/027 programme is supporting the following eye care focused courses, in collaboration with the FHF:
- Blindness course for ophthalmologists (one-week workshop for trained ophthalmologists);
- Basic Eye Doctor (BED) training (one-year training programme for general practitioners and newly graduated medical doctors);
- Ophthalmologist Specialist Residency (three-years specialization programme to train Basic Eye Doctors to become Ophthalmologists; 1 year in Thailand, 2 years in Laos)
Investing in equipment and technology
While investing in training capacity is one of the key components to building a stronger health workforce and strengthening the health system, the LAO/027 programme is also supporting the creation of an enabling environment for ophthalmology services in the health facilities in the three provinces of Vientiane, Bolikhamxay, and Khammouane.
Cataract surgery at the Bolikhamxay provincial hospital in July 2020. © LuxDev
To reinforce the scope and the quality of curative ophthalmological services at the provincial level, the LAO/027 programme has renovated the old ophthalmology unit of the Bolikhamxay provincial hospital and has provided additional eye care equipment for eye surgeries.
The ophthalmology surgical department established at the Bolikhamxay provincial hospital opened its doors last year in July 2020 and is staffed by a qualified ophthalmologist team trained in Thailand and at the University of Health Sciences in Vientiane capital. The Bolikhamxay provincial hospital provides care and treatment services, including services for eye-related diseases such as cataract and glaucoma.
The Lao-Luxembourg Health Sector Support Programme Phase II (LAO/027) is co-financed by the Government of Lao PDR and the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg and is implemented by the Lao Ministry of Health and LuxDev, the Luxembourg Development Cooperation Agency.↑ To the top