DOH, Philhealth to let poor patients avail of free cataract surgery
MANILA, Philippines—The Department of Health (DOH) said it has been working out a package with the state-run Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (Philhealth) to ensure indigent patients could avail of cataract surgery for free in a bid to curb the prevalence of visual impairment and blindness among Filipinos.
The health agency said it has drafted an administrative order to ensure that poor patients belonging to the lowest quintile can avail of cataract surgery in government hospitals for free using PhilHealth packages under the “No Balance Billing” policy.
“The administrative order…using PhilHealth packages has been drafted and is for approval,” it announced.
As part of the initiative to reduce cases of blindness in the country, the health agency said it would launch a program to integrate lifestyle diseases and visual health, including that for diabetic retinopathy, into mainstream healthcare services in the primary health centers and secondary hospitals.
Figures culled so far in 2014 have shown that more than 1.25 million Filipinos are visually impaired or has low vision. Of this number, 61 percent are due to errors of refraction (EOR); 33 percent due to cataract; five percent due to maculopathy and retinopathy; and one percent due to glaucoma.
For this year, the current estimated number of people who are bilaterally blind (both eyes) is 303,136. In 2013, 569,072 Filipinos were recorded to be bilaterally blind, majority of which was due to cataract, and 1.96 million were estimated to have low vision (moderate to severe visual impairment).
The DOH stressed that 80 percent of all visual impairments could either be avoided and cured, which included treatable conditions such as cataract, error of refraction and childhood blindness.
To reduce the prevalence of childhood blindness, the DOH said it has been crafting guidelines on vision screening for children, which would include referral and screening of retinopathy of prematurity among pre-term infants and a vision screening program in public schools.
The vision screening program, which was pilot-tested in some schools early August to mark the Sight Saving Month, made use of the Lea Symbols Chart, a new vision screening tool that is “age-appropriate and culturally neutral” and can detect eye problems such as ambylopia and EOR among young children.
Ambylopia is a condition of abnormal visual development, which if left untreated before the age of 7, may result in permanent vision loss to the affected eye.
“It also has a training program for the teachers on how to do the vision screening so that they will be the ones to conduct the vision screening in their respective schools,” added the DOH.
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