How lessons from Rwanda could help China fix its myopia crisis

Students in China leave school after finishing their college entrance examination.

Dr. Agnes Binagwaho is the vice chancellor of the University of Global Health Equity. Trained as a pediatrician, she worked for over 20 years in Rwanda's public sector and was the country's minister of health for five years.

(CNN)President Xi Jinping recently described myopia as an epidemic affecting China's younger generations.

There are now an estimated 720 million Chinese citizens with uncorrected poor vision, according to Dr. Xun Xu at the Shanghai Eye Hospital. Short-sightedness increases dramatically with age; it affects over half of children aged 10, 80% of 16-year-olds and over 90% of university students in China.
But the Chinese government has the resolve -- and a five-year plan -- to eradicate poor vision and preventable blindness by delivering "universal medical eye care for all."
    It is a huge undertaking but worth doing, as treating myopia is more than just a health issue.
    Qi gong master Liang Jian Sheng treats a short-sighted patient by transferring his energy to the young boy at a hospital in Guangzhou.
    Myopia costs the global economy around $3 trillion a year in health costs and lost productivity, according to a 2010 report. By 2050, nearly 50% of the world's population is predicted to have myopia, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
    Vision is the golden thread by which many of the UN's sustainable development goals can be achieved, including quality education, decent work and economic growth, and gender equality.
    China should draw on the experiences of countries that have set an example on the issue.

    Learning from Rwanda

    In Rwanda, during my tenure as minister for health and thereafter, we executed a plan that has provided all 12 million citizens with the option of accessing glasses. The glasses cost as little as $1.50 and are provided free for the poorest 20%.
    Rwanda's history sets a precedent for such policy, not only in its ambition but also in its feasibility.
    The key strategy was training nurses at regular health centers to deliver sight tests and prescribe glasses. In Rwanda, between 2012 and 2017, a three-day course trained about 2,800 nurses to perform eye exams nationwide and provide appropriate eye care, meeting a critical shortage of trained specialists to diagnose eye conditions.
    Dr. Agnes Bingwaho in Butaro, Rwanda, with community health workers in January.
    Restrictions that had previously prevented other health workers from carrying out vision tests were removed so testing was not merely confined to ophthalmologists.
    These professionals, working in Rwanda's health centers, have