VISION 2020 is a global initiative launched in 1999 to eliminate avoidable blindness by 2020. The objective of this study was to undertake a situation analysis of the Zambian eye health system and assess VISION 2020 process indicators on human resources, equipment and infrastructure. All eye health care providers were surveyed to determine location, financing sources, human resources and equipment. Key informants were interviewed regarding levels of service provision, management and leadership in the sector. Policy papers were reviewed. A health system dynamics framework was used to analyse findings.
During 2011, 74 facilities provided eye care in Zambia; 39% were public, 37% private for-profit and 24% owned by non-governmental organisations. Private facilities were solely located in major cities. A total of 191 people worked in eye care; 18 of these were ophthalmologists and eight cataract surgeons, equivalent to 0.34 and 0.15 per 250,000 population, respectively. VISION 2020 targets for inpatient beds and surgical theatres were met in six out of nine provinces, but human resources and spectacles manufacturing workshops were below target in every province. Inequalities in service provision between urban and rural areas were substantial. Shortage and maldistribution of human resources, lack of routine monitoring and inadequate financing mechanisms are the root causes of underperformance in the Zambian eye health system, which hinder the ability to achieve the VISION 2020 goals. We recommend that all VISION 2020 process indicators are evaluated simultaneously as these are not individually useful for monitoring progress.