A survey conducted by The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ found that cataract was the dominant cause of blindness, and that cataracts and uncorrected refractive error were responsible for almost all cases of low vision in the Cook Islands.
The Cook Islands are made up of 15 islands, 11 of them inhabited with a population of only 23,000 people. This is a country with a small population and insufficient human and financial resources to ‘go it alone’ in eye care.
In 2003, The Foundation visited the Cook Islands and prioritised the teaching of two specialist eye care nurses. In 2004, the first nurse was sent to train with Dr John Szetu - a world class ophthalmologist now director of the Pacific Eye Institute. This nurse returned to the Cook Islands at the end of 2004 and ran an eye clinic in Rarotonga with the support of The Foundation until she retired.
In 2009, a second eye nurse was trained at the Pacific Eye Institute in Fiji, and was joined shortly afterward by a Cook Islands doctor who graduated with a Diploma of Ophthalmology in 2010.
About the program
The Fred Hollows Foundation's activities in the Cook Islands work to support the current doctor and nurse providing eye care services from Rarotonga. We aim to train a specialised diabetes eye nurse in the coming years.
The Foundation supports our graduates through workforce visits, sponsoring attendance to conferences on Pacific eye health, and inviting participation in surgical outreaches. Our aim is to keep up our eye health workers' skills and motivate them to advocate for eye care services in the Cook Islands.
Blindness prevention is an area that will need to be developed in the coming years as diabetes prevalence continues to rise.
Facts and figures
|Prevalence of blindness||0.7%|
|Main causes of blindness||Cataract|
|Number of eye doctors required by 2020||0|
|Number of eye nurses (2012)||1|
|Number of eye nurses required by 2020||1|
|Number of diabetes eye nurses (2012)||0|
|Number of diabetes eye nurses required by 2020||1|
|Adult literacy rate||100%|
|Under-5 mortality rate (per 1,000 births)||7.1|
|Number of doctors (per 10,000 people)||11.8|
Sources: The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ targets, World Health Organization: Cook Islands, WHO Global Health Observatory: Cook Islands health profile, WHO Western Pacific region: Cook Islands country profile.