2020 HAPI 2nd Prize Winner
As people age, their ability to remain in their homes and to stay engaged in the economy and the community can be substantially undermined by vision loss. Vietnam has one of the fastest aging populations in the world. While life expectancy continues to increase, reaching 74 years in 2019, the healthy life expectancy has lagged behind at just 66 years. Reduced eye health is a significant contributor to age-related disabilities experienced by older persons in Vietnam.
As a result, in 2012, the Vietnam Association of the Elderly (VAE) launched a nationwide campaign known as Bright Eyes for Older People to promote eye health. The VAE has more than 10 million paid members throughout Vietnam who represent 90 percent of the nation’s older people, and so it was able to capitalize on that vast network to collect data on eye health, assess needs, and disseminate information widely to stakeholders. The objective was to provide an estimated 3 million older people who are poor, living alone, and suffering from disabilities with free vision screening and counseling, as well as any necessary glasses or eye operations. Cataract surgery was a particularly critical need since cataracts remain the leading cause of blindness.
In order to raise awareness about the importance of eye health for older people the VAE began conducting regular and proactive lobbying activities targeting key policymakers, donors, media, and the private sector They also launched educational initiatives to raise awareness among the public and their own staff. They then leveraged this awareness by working with Older People Associations and Intergenerational Self-Help Clubs throughout Vietnam and by creating a national Fund to Care and Promote Older People, which sought both human resources and financial resources for the campaign. To date, more than US$22.3 million has been raised.
The impact of the campaign has been substantial. Working closely with local health providers, older people’s associations, the private sector, religious organizations, and NGOs, they have conducted eye screenings and treatment for 3.67 million people—about a third of the country’s older population. More than 200,000 glasses have been provided at low or no cost, and more than half a million people have undergone free cataract surgery. Looking to build on this success, they have developed ambitious plans to dramatically increase those numbers in the coming decade.
The VAE is a rather unique organization in that it has a nationwide network of associations at the local level, which permits it to mobilize resources easily. It also enjoys close cooperation with key government ministries and departments, along with other sectors. These relationships have been important to get the word out and raise support for the program. They also invested heavily in reaching out to national and local-level media outlets to disseminate information about the program and to raise awareness about eye health.
One of the important aspects of the program is that they were able to identify a clear and pressing need, backed up by data, and then create a media campaign that tapped the interest of key stakeholders. In particular, they viewed older people as not only the target of charity, but as a large and growing untapped resource. The campaign promoted a strong sense of local ownership among older people, and in fact, donations from older people have been a major source of funding for the program. Bright Eyes has been institutionalized as an important component of VAE’s work and is expected to have an ongoing and positive impact on the quality of life of those it helps and their caregivers.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
- Identified a critical and growing issue for the growing aged population in Vietnam
- Engaged local governments, general public, religious organizations, private sector, media, and local health providers in the effort to mobilize human and financial resources
- Engaged and mobilized older people, viewing them not as the target of the charity but as an important resource for carrying out the campaign