Dr. Faisal Naqadan: The Ophthalmologist championing Qatar Creating Vision

July 2019

We recently caught up with Ophthalmologist, Dr Faisal Naqadan (pictured in the black top above) to hear about his experiences with Qatar Creating Vision and the impact the programme is having on the lives of people in India and Bangladesh.

Which kind of diseases does this initiative help to reduce or cure, and in which areas has it operated?

Qatar Creating Vision is an amazing initiative which is helping children across India and Bangladesh to see. Funded by the Qatar Fund for Development and implemented by international eye care charity Orbis, the project began in July 2016 and to date, over 5.5 million eye tests have been provided.

In India, the project focuses on refractive error. Through a school screening programme called REACH (Refractive Error Amongst Children), eye tests are being provided so that those struggling with their sight are identified and given the glasses they need. This way they can enjoy school without any visual issues blocking their progress. During these eye tests, additional eye problems / conditions such as cataract or strabismus can be identified too, meaning that children will then be referred for further treatment at the Orbis-supported local eye hospital.

In Bangladesh, Qatar Creating Vision has been focusing on expanding the medical and surgical eye care services for children across the country. Alongside this, Orbis has also developed the first Retinopathy of Prematurity Centre for premature babies outside of Dhaka. Retinopathy of Prematurity is an eye disease that can happen in babies born too soon before their due date. It causes abnormal blood vessels to grow in the retina and can lead to blindness. This is why it’s important that they are monitored. The increase in services is helping parents outside of Bangladesh’s capital city to access these vital services.

In response to the influx of people entering the camps in South East Bangladesh, the initiative was expanded in 2018 to help children and adults struggling with vision loss within the Rohingya and local host community.

Orbis began work here in February 2018 and has been collaborating with local partners to screen over 70,000 people, carry out over 1,100 surgeries and prescribe almost 28,000 treatments and glasses within the area.

What are the most common eye problems or diseases that people face in the areas where the initiative operates?

Refractive error is the most common condition that the initiative looks for, but cataract, strabismus, injuries, etc. can all be picked up. With children it is vital that we address blinding conditions such as cataract as early as possible. If these are left for too long, children can become irreversibly blind as their brains and their eyes do not learn to work together.

India and Bangladesh are home to approximately 473,000 blind children, with more children struggling with blindness in India than in any other country. Obtaining treatment can be very expensive or may be too far away to reach. Promisingly, with the right support, there is a lot we can do to tackle this as 50% of childhood blindness is preventable or treatable.

What became apparent through Orbis’s work in South East Bangladesh, was that many of the Rohingya community seeking help for their eye vision loss had never had access to eye care before, so their conditions, such as cataract, were very advanced.

The sad reality is that hundreds of thousands of children and millions of adults around the world are struggling unnecessarily, but through the generosity of organisations such as the Qatar Fund for Development, and the knowledge and expertise of charities like Orbis, powerful initiatives like Qatar Creating Vision can be established.

Why is there a link between curing eye diseases and education?

We know that 80% of what a child learns is through visual means, and what’s more, it’s estimated that 90% of blind children in developing countries do not attend school. There are so many, who with the right support or a pair of glasses, could enjoy their education without a preventable or treatable eye condition getting in their way. By empowering children, Qatar Creating Vision is empowering communities and giving people the chance to realise their full potential.

Orbis recognises how important teachers are when it comes to their students’ eye care too. Since the programme began, over 76,000 teachers, community workers and even pupils have been taught how to spot vision loss.

How would you as a doctor evaluate this initiative after being part of it?

I had never been to see eye care screening programmes in another country until last year, when I visited India with Orbis. It showed me so much. I learnt a lot about the challenges for eye care, the work being done and the high demand for eye health services.

It was nice to see how the teams work smoothly and professionally together, from the ophthalmologists, to the optometrists, to the coordinators, to the outreach consultants and even schools - they collaborate perfectly to do a great job. They screened, smoothly, 700 children in one day, just amazing! The other important thing to acknowledge about the Qatar Creating Vision initiative is the focus on monitoring the child’s progress from the beginning to the end of their treatment pathway, it’s very impressive. Parents are taught about the importance of their children wearing classes, and surprise checks are undertaken at the schools to see if they are indeed wearing them. If someone misses an appointment, their parents are called to make sure it is rescheduled.

What would you like for others to know about the initiative and your experience in it as a doctor?

I trained in ophthalmology in Germany and I work in Qatar, both countries where we easily have access to excellent eye care. What was clear from my visit to India and what I have learnt about Qatar Creating Vision was that this programme and Orbis’s partners really are giving the best eye care to children that may otherwise not be able to access it. They’re picking up the eye conditions, reaching them in their school environment, giving them the support needed and the right to sight.

This really is a unique programme that Qatar Fund for Development has made possible, and its vision is opening doors for many people. It is something that needs to continue and grow. I am happy and proud to be from Qatar as it continues with its great initiatives, such as Qatar Creating Vision - which makes a difference for many people’s lives. I would like to see this programme expand and help many more in other countries too. There is a lot of work to be done.