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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has launched a new global programme to improve the treatment of blindness and visual impairment for one million people in the UAE and developing countries.

Noor Dubai was launched this month (3 September) and will fund new education programmes for healthworkers, raise awareness and fund research.

The WHO estimates that up to 75 per cent of blindness cases are avoidable and 90 per cent of the blind reside in developing countries.

Part of Noor Dubai's work will be an anti-blindness education initiative to raise awareness and ensure that health professionals are equipped with the latest knowledge about technology and best practice.

The organisation will collaborate with the nonprofit organisation ORBIS International on its Cyber-Sight telemedicine programme, which connects eye doctors in developing countries with expert mentors from all over the world.

It is also partnering with ORBIS's Flying Eye Hospital — an aeroplane-based hospital serving developing countries — to set up educational programmes and establish guidelines and protocols for the management of eye diseases.

Funding for research is also on the agenda.

Manal Omran Taryam, head of the Noor Dubai Medical Team and president of the Emirates Medical Association Ophthalmic Society, says that Noor Dubai has received many proposals to fund research particularly for cataract — the leading cause of blindness in the world affecting 18 million people and making up 48 per cent of cases of blindness.

Tayaram says the budget for research funding has yet to be specified, but adds that Noor Dubai has been given an "open budget" by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and the government of Dubai.

Morad Ahmed Morad, a professor of medicine at Tanta University, Egypt, says, "Noor Dubai must focus its anti-blindness research agenda on the evaluation of techniques that are cost-effective and easily accessible to developing countries, such as micronutrient supplementation, food fortification and other food-based programmes."

He adds that the organisation should also evaluate new approaches to screening, diagnosis and delivery of eye care services, especially to underserved populations.