Sector COVID-19 Response

The Fred Hollows Foundation helps eye hospitals to continue saving sight

The Fred Hollows Foundation has repurposed funds from its comprehensive eye care services to help in the fight against coronavirus in Pakistan.

The Foundation’s Pakistan Country Manager Mr Farooq Awan said with support from the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), funds were repurposed to source and distribute Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), initiate telemedicine consultation services and launch a radio awareness campaign.

The coronavirus pandemic has placed a tremendous burden on the eye healthcare system in Pakistan. Medical resources are already stretched thin and it has forced local healthcare partners to suspend eye care services. As a result, more than 50,000 patients living with vision problems have been denied access to treatment.

“The funds will assist more than 2,900 healthcare workers and benefit thousands of patients in accessing medical services in four provinces,” Mr Awan said. “More than 400,000 people were reached by a radio awareness campaign.

In mid-March, partners’ hospitals reached out to The Foundation to help address shortages of PPE needed for frontline healthcare workers.

The shortage of PPE meant health workers and patients were at higher risk of becoming infected or exposed. The supplied PPE kit which includes protective suit, goggles, mask, and gloves is essential to keeping health workers safe and reduce risk of contracting coronavirus.

The Foundation has sourced 2,950 PPE kits to frontline health workers in Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces.

Mr Awan said local healthcare providers could resume activities including eye care services. Eye care workers should feel less fearful of exposure to coronavirus.

Since the pandemic was declared, hospitals have seen sharp drops in non-coronavirus patients. This is becoming a trend in many countries including Pakistan. For example, Sindh Institute of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences Hyderabad has seen an 80% drop in patients with pre-existing health problems.

Patients living with serious eye diseases who do not seek treatment could face irreversible blindness, a long-lasting consequence.

In a bid to help patients who are reluctant to leave home, The Foundation initiated telemedicine consultation services for eye patients in mid-May 2020. Dedicated mobile, landline and WhatsApp numbers have been created to receive patients’ inquiries and provide consultations via phone or video calls.

Teleconsultation is being implemented in collaboration with Sindh Institute of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences Hyderabad, Sindh province.

Patients with non-emergency eye conditions can seek help and care through teleconsultation services.

Remote ophthalmologists can diagnose, treat, follow-up and identify acute cases that require referral or further investigation. They have helped patients suffering from allergic conjunctivitis, glaucoma, refractive errors, cataract and diabetic retinopathy.

Teleconsultation can also help hospitals preserve their capacity and resources to receive eye patients with emergency cases as well as continue responding to COVID19.

“Up to 70 percent of calls received were from Hyderabad district,” Mr Arwan said. “Fortunately, we did not receive critical cases that required immediate medical interventions.

“85 percent of patients were advised to take medication while 15 percentage were recommended to visit the nearest healthcare centre.

“The teleconsultation tool helps local healthcare providers stay connected with patients and ensure they receive the eyecare treatment that they need,” he said.

The Foundation has also launched a public awareness and health messaging campaign in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Behavioral change remains a vital tool to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

The COVID19 awareness campaign was integrated with an on-going trachoma campaign where The Foundation has been focusing its efforts to educate people about personal hygiene practices, face-washing and environmental improvement through increased access to water and sanitation.

The campaign aimed to educate local community members in social behavior, health symptoms, prevention and the role of members in stopping the spread of trachoma and COVID19. It has reached more than 400,000 people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Pakistan now has 234,509 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 4,839 deaths, according to a JHU CSSE’s tracker as of Saturday, July 6. While the confirmed recovered cases are 134,957.

In Pakistan, more than one million people are blind and nearly 1.25 million people are visually impaired. Almost 2.6 million children live with vision problems. The leading causes of blindness and visual impairment are cataract, refractive errors, and glaucoma.

“The ANCP support has enabled The Foundation and its local healthcare partners to continue reaching out patients who could develop difficulty in seeing,” Mr. Awan said. “We need to ensure patients living with visual impairment are not left behind in this uncertain time”.