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New System to Treat Eye Diseases in Rural Areas

China is aiming to set up a system covering all villages to help rural people suffering from serious eye diseases, said Han Jianmin, director of the National Blindness Action Group.

Eye protection will be an important part of healthcare work, especially in rural areas, Han told a national conference on blindness. China has over 5 million blind people, approximately 18 percent of the world's total. Each year, 450,000 Chinese people suffer from various eye afflictions, including 400,000 suffering from cataracts.

The number of patients suffering from eye problems will be three times the figure for 2020 unless effective measures are applied, said Han.

The focus of new measures to treat eye afflictions is on the villages, especially those in the western and central parts of China, said Xu Liang, director of the Beijing Institute of Ophthalmology. Xu added that eye diseases such as cataracts and trachoma are still threats to old people in the countryside.

Only one out of 10 cataracts patients in the countryside can afford treatment, said Xu.

"The first thing we will do is to train ophthalmic doctors in county-level hospitals," said Han Jianmin, adding that more effort must be made to increase the budget for the work, while reducing treatment fees.

Over 2.6 million Chinese cataract patients have regained their vision after receiving help from the nationwide Sight First China Action program, held from 1997 to 2002.

Between 1997 and 2001, the program helped bring ophthalmologic services to 100 hospitals at county level, while training 4,000 ophthalmologists from rural areas, and establishing a database of eye diseases in Wuhan of Central China's Hubei Province in 1999.

(China Daily December 15, 2003)

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