Open Access Open Badges Research article

Evidence for integrating eye health into primary health care in Africa: a health systems strengthening approach

Rènée du Toit1*, Hannah B Faal2, Daniel Etya’ale3, Boateng Wiafe4, Ingrid Mason5, Ronnie Graham6, Simon Bush7, Wanjiku Mathenge89 and Paul Courtright10

Author Affiliations

1 Eye health consultant, 17 Pecan Place, 831 Mortimer Avenue, Pretoria, Mayville 0084, South Africa

2 Eye health and health systems consultant, Calabar, Nigeria

3 MSc Community Eye, International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, Cape Town, South Africa

4 MSc (Community Eye Health), Operation Eyesight, Accra, Ghana

5 MSc (Medical Education), RGN/KRN, CBM, Nairobi, Kenya

6 DipEd, Sightsavers, Dar Es Salam, Tanzania

7 MSc(Development Management), Sightsavers, Accra, Ghana

8 Rwanda International Institute of Ophthalmology, Kigali, Rwanda

9 The Fred Hollows Foundation, Sydney, Australia

10 KCCO International, Cape Town, South Africa

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BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:102  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-102

Published: 18 March 2013



The impact of unmet eye care needs in sub-Saharan Africa is compounded by barriers to accessing eye care, limited engagement with communities, a shortage of appropriately skilled health personnel, and inadequate support from health systems. The renewed focus on primary health care has led to support for greater integration of eye health into national health systems. The aim of this paper is to demonstrate available evidence of integration of eye health into primary health care in sub-Saharan Africa from a health systems strengthening perspective.


A scoping review method was used to gather and assess information from published literature, reviews, WHO policy documents and examples of eye and health care interventions in sub-Saharan Africa. Findings were compiled using a health systems strengthening framework.


Limited information is available about eye health from a health systems strengthening approach. Particular components of the health systems framework lacking evidence are service delivery, equipment and supplies, financing, leadership and governance. There is some information to support interventions to strengthen human resources at all levels, partnerships and community participation; but little evidence showing their successful application to improve quality of care and access to comprehensive eye health services at the primary health level, and referral to other levels for specialist eye care.


Evidence of integration of eye health into primary health care is currently weak, particularly when applying a health systems framework. A realignment of eye health in the primary health care agenda will require context specific planning and a holistic approach, with careful attention to each of the health system components and to the public health system as a whole. Documentation and evaluation of existing projects are required, as are pilot projects of systematic approaches to interventions and application of best practices. Multi-national research may provide guidance about how to scale up eye health interventions that are integrated into primary health systems.

Quality care; Sub-Saharan Africa; Health systems strengthening; Integration; Primary health care; Public health; Eye health; Vision impairment and blindness; Primary eye care; Developing countries