Bulgaria is one of the countries whose unmet needs regarding eye and visual health are on average 4 times higher compared to high-income countries, some public groups having much higher needs than this rate. There is no established mechanism at central and local administrative level for coordination of the healthcare, social and research and educational sectors providing measures to prevent blindness and safeguard the rights of the visually impaired. This is a pilot project aiming at raising the awareness of the public and public institutions about the leading reasons for vision loss in Bulgaria and opportunities for prevention. The goal is to use civic engagement and carry out research to stimulate an informed debate leading to interaction with the stakeholders and setting up a public-private partnership to formulate policies ensuring eye and vision health. The expected outcomes include establishing the main gaps and inconsistencies in the existing legal framework, medical practices and standards regarding eye health in Bulgaria, identifying the main needs of the visually impaired, raising health awareness among the people affected by vision loss by developing an information platform for them and by holding a national campaign and training seminars across the different regions of the country, preparing and proposing a package of measures for amendments to the legal framework, medical practices and standards as well as social activities preventing vision loss. The partnership with a civil society organization with experience in developing and introducing local policies (Foundation for Local Government Reform) will boost the capacity for work in the municipalities and partnership with the Icelandic Association of Visually Impaired will enable integration of good international practices. The project is expected to benefit public institutions, national and local authorities responsible for eye and vision health as well as the visually impaired in Bulgaria.
Summary of project results
The main goal of the project was to raise civic awareness and that of central and local authorities about the state of visual health in Bulgaria and the challenges facing it, to raise awareness of the causes of visual impairment and blindness in our country and the needs of people living with them, the need and opportunities to limit visual impairment and blindness.The achieved results of the project can be summarized as follows:
- established partnerships between the organizations promoting the project and the organizations of professionals - ophthalmologists, optometrists; with Centers for Rehabilitation and Social Integration of People with Visual impairments in the country; with organizations of the Union of the Blind in Bulgaria; with the National Center for Rehabilitation of the Blind in Plovdiv; with the Technological Council at the SSB; with various representatives of local authorities; with various patient organizations;
- created products of the project, which will have their further development: the digital information platform "Portal Vision" with reference information for people with visual impairments; the data and conclusions from the Report on the State of Visual Health in Bulgaria (published in January 2020); the publications made on the project; the opinions provided by experts and stakeholders; the opinions sent by the Retina Bulgaria Association and the expert team within the framework of public consultations on normative acts and national strategies in the period 2021-2022; the set of recommendations for changes in regulations, strategic documents and programs, standards and practices in ophthalmology, rehabilitation and inclusion of people with visual impairments (published in 2022);
- trained and engaged regional trainers of people with visual impairments, incl. health mediators - working "in the field" with vulnerable groups, whose cooperation and commitment are valuable for future initiatives;
- established partnerships with industry representatives, which supported the implementation of the "Vision for Vision" project and expressed their readiness to support follow-up actions to achieve sustainability of the initiative.
Summary of bilateral results
Cooperation with Blindrafélagið consisted of consultations and discussions on: available good practices in Iceland that can be adopted in Bulgaria, in particular the activities of the National Institute for the Blind,Visually Impaired and Deafblind; Discussions of the current development of the international political framework for the visual health incl. the adopted in July 2021 UN Resolution on eye health with recommendations to member states, as among these recommendations is the participation of those affected - patients, people with visual impairments, in the processes of taking decisions about the priorities and implementation of National Eye Health Plan.