HCP Breaks Ground on Speciality Eye Center in Ethiopia

Preparation for construction on the Specialty Eye Center in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia officially started in March 2021, marking an exciting step towards expanding eye care and ophthalmic training opportunities in the Amhara region and across East Africa.

Made possible in part by a grant from Patrick and Tamar Pichette, the Bahir Dar Specialty Eye Center adapts models of successful Community Eye Hospitals HCP developed in other countries to the Ethiopian context.

The Bahir Dar Specialty Eye Center is grounded in a social enterprise model that will provide quality eye care to everyone who needs it, regardless of ability to pay, while also building ophthalmic capacity in the region through a breadth of specialized training programs. The center’s cross-subsidization model, where paying patients support the provision of free eye care and surgeries, ensures financial sustainability and access to sight-restoring surgeries and eye services for all those in need in the region.

Ethiopia shoulders one of the highest burdens of blindness in the world, with an estimated 800,000 backlog of people with treatable cataract blindness. Only 70,000 Ethiopians receive cataract surgery each year, leaving hundreds of thousands waiting for care. Currently, there are fewer than an estimated 150 ophthalmologists in Ethiopia, with 60% clustered in the capital, leaving eye care services out of reach for many in the country.

The Amhara region, where the Bahir Dar Specialty Eye Center will be located, is home to 22 million Ethiopians and has one of the highest prevalence rates of curable blindness in the country, with 30,800 new cases of cataract each year. Access to care in the area is incredibly limited, with just five cataract surgeons and 12 public sector ophthalmologists available to serve the population of 22 million.

The Bahir Dar Specialty Eye Center will serve Ethiopians in Amhara and surrounding areas and aims to:

  • Reduce avoidable blindness and visual impairment by establishing a self-sustaining center in the region to focus on high-quality service delivery, training and infrastructure
  • Provide quality eye care to everyone in need
  • Build ophthalmic capacity in the country by offering specialized training programs.
  • Alleviate avoidable blindness as a public health problem in the Amhara region
  • Build a scalable model that responds to the burden of needless blindness through a locally led, sustainable mechanism

“Introducing the Community Eye Hospital model in Ethiopia has been a collective goal of the Himalayan Cataract Project Founders and Board for over a decade,” HCP CEO Job Heintz said. “Breaking ground on the Specialty Eye Center is a huge milestone towards replicating the model and expanding access to eye care in the region.”

HCP has prioritized strengthening Ethiopia’s eye care system since 2008, when asked to assess the eye care needs of the Millennium Village cluster of Koraro, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. To date HCP has provided over $12 million of investment in Ethiopia, resulting in providing screenings and basic services for 3.1 million people including 390,000 sight restoring surgeries, and 476 distinct training opportunities for eye care personnel in partnership with more than 20 local institutions across five regions.

“The Bahir Dar Specialty Eye Center is based on the successful and proven community eye hospital model pioneered by HCP, Co-founder Dr. Sandul Ruit at Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology in Nepal” Heintz said. “This model has a proven and real impact on reducing the rate of blindness in areas where it is deployed, an impact we anticipate we’ll also see from this new Center in Bahir Dar.”

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