Nepal is a tiny, mountainous country with a population of almost 29 million, divided into a cultural mosaic of 101 ethnic groups and nearly as many languages. The challenges of its diversity and geography, combined with continuous political upheavals, have resulted in Nepal being one of the world’s least-developed nations. With a GDP of $700 per capita, its government spends only $43 per person a year on health care.
Despite the fact that there are currently 229,000 blind people in the country, the prevalence of blindness, primarily cataract, in Nepal has dropped by half in the last two decades – from 0.82% to 0.39%. This success is due in part to the pioneering work of Seva in developing and teaching an efficient, effective and inexpensive cataract surgery model. As a result, thousands of impoverished cataract patients regain their sight every year without any need for foreign aid.
Seva funds currently support an ever-expanding network of facilities and activities that reach the most remote and rural areas in Nepal. Program expansion includes training of additional personnel and development of new programs such as screening for chronic diseases like diabetic retinopathy, pediatric programs and utilizing microfinance groups to identify and refer community members who need eye care.
In addition to the national program, Seva established the Lumbini Eye Institute in 1985. This specialty care and training facility is Seva Nepal’s largest and longest running eye care facility. It supports nine eye care facilities, including three secondary hospitals and six Primary Eye Care Centres (PECC). A PECC is a small eye clinic, staffed by a well-trained ophthalmic technician, which can treat 90% of all eye health issues including minor conditions, provision of eyeglasses and arranging referral of more serious conditions to the hospital.
Lumbini has become one of the most successful models of high-volume quality eye care, providing over 25,000 cataract surgeries and serving over 200,000 patients a year. Its fee structure, developed by Seva, enabled the program to become economically self-sufficient within a year through service generated income so a small proportion of paying patients covering the costs of those who are too poor to pay.
Bharatpur Eye Hospital is the next largest Seva-supported eye hospital, located in Chitwan district, and with 3 affiliated Primary Eye Care Centres.
Seva also supports nine other locally operated Primary Eye Care Centres in far western and eastern Nepal. Nepal’s eye centers now provide more than 100,000 surgeries and more than 850,000 outpatient services annually.