New study proves urgency of eye care access in Rohingya refugee Community

April 2020

Community experiences 3-6 times as many cases of operable cataract in working age people compared to host population in southeast Bangladesh.

Orbis has conducted a study to explore the eye care needs of the Rohingya community, as part of our programme to prevent and treat avoidable blindness in the camps and the surrounding area.

Published in a special issue of peer-reviewed medical journal PLOS Medicine focusing on refugee and migrant health, ‘The Burden of eye disease and demand for care in the Bangladesh Rohingya displaced population and host community: A cohort study’, represents one of the largest published datasets on refugee eye health

We found that among the more than 68,000 people who received services between February 2018 and March 2019, the vast majority of vision loss was due to refractive error (the need for glasses) and unoperated cataract. The numbers of people that were presenting with operable cataract at our vision centres within the camps, were three- to six-fold higher among the working-age Rohingya community (18 to 59 years) than the host population.

“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 programme – 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.”

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 its 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 - many patients had never had access to eye care before. More than 127,000 eye screenings and nearly 52,000 treatments have been delivered since work began.