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The Myanmar Eye Care Program

Myanmar (formerly Burma) is a country of over 60 million people and has one of the world’s highest published rates of blindness.  Only 200 ophthalmologists service this population, which has a current backlog of 600,000 cataract operations. Less than half of the practicing ophthalmologists perform surgery, with the majority servicing only the two largest cities. (In contrast Australia has approximately 800 ophthalmologists for a population of 22 million)

Myanmar has one of the highest blindness prevalence rates in the world with 8.1% blindness in rural areas. Blindness is caused by cataracts (64%), glaucoma (17%), trachoma (4%) and other causes (15%). Myanmar has 40.4% low vision in rural areas of which 70% is due to cataracts.

The Myanmar Eye Care Program (MECP) is led by Sydney-based ophthalmologist Dr Geoff Cohn. Every couple of months, Dr Cohn and a dedicated team of more than 40 Australian medical eye specialists, technicians and support staff, self-fund their trips to Myanmar and volunteer their time to provide treatment to 30,000 people each year.  They treat eye diseases such as cataract and glaucoma and provide essential equipment for ophthalmic surgery. Importantly, the program helps train local indigenous ophthalmic personnel to operate independently, which enables them to continue the work when the Australian team returns home. The aim of the MECP is to reduce the prevalence of preventable and avoidable blindness in the rural areas of Myanmar by developing a high quality, locally staffed, self-sustaining and efficient eye care health system by 2020.

What we do and what we have achieved
The MECP has:

  • Provided equipment, disposables, training and support allowing five new monastery based eye care centres to open Wachet Jivitadana Sangha Hospital, Mmawby, Phaung Daw Oo, Mount Popa and Bogale, and one non-monastery-based clinic in Loikaw, since 2002;
  • Trained 42 Ophthalmic Technicians at various centres;
  • Recruited and trained five permanent local staff who perform ongoing training in the absence of visiting surgeons;
  • Delivered health services - locally trained staff and trainees as well as visiting surgeons have performed more than 12,000 eye operations, and continue to perform 5,000 each year;
  • Introduced:
    • Vitreoretinal surgery and retinal laser to the program in 2010. Two trips per year are dedicated to retinal patients.
    • Modern anesthetic care, which is continually being upgraded, allowing safe care of children and surgery for complex eye conditions.
  • Upgraded infrastructure:
    • New generators have been installed at Wachet and Bogale.
    • The Hospital electrical plan has been revised at Wachet.

Naing's story

Naing Htoo Aung was an orphaned child from an impoverished village in Kachin State. His parents had been killed in a mine accident when he was three. An injury had scarred his left eye lid open, exposing his eye to severe damage. The MECP first saw Niang in 2006, and he was operated on three times to repair his damaged eye. After his recovery, the MECP also found him a home and an education at the local monastery orphanage.

Future project goals

Eye clinics

  • Open a new eye clinic in Mandalay Sangha Hospital.
  • Open other new eye clinics as funding allows. Provide, update and maintain equipment in other centres such as Phaung Daw Oo and Wachet.


  • Train eight Optechs for Mandalay Sangha Hospital.
  • Continue to train ophthalmic surgeons in the latest techniques and use of equipment in Hmawby.
  • Continue to support the training of Optechs in Wachet.
  • Confirm the standard of training, specifically in Loikaw, Phaung Daw Oo, Mandalay Sangha Hospital, of recent graduates.
  • Continue to monitor the standards of the Optechs already trained.

Health delivery

  • Continue to assist to reduce the current surgical and outpatient backlog

Major supporters

The MECP is supported by The Charitable Foundation, Robert Christie Foundation and Eye & Vision Research.

Funds needed

With your help, we need to raise ongoing funds to support this project.

Medical team

The Myanmar medical team is led by Dr Geoff Cohn and includes Drs Richard Rawson, Dr Sai Win, Dr Kwon Kang, Dr Peter Martin, Dr Simon Irvine, Dr Gerard Sutton and Sister Barbara Roberts.

Contact us

If you would like more information about this project, click here. To make a donation to support this project, click here.