A new eye screening van was handed over to Dr Duke Mataka and his team in Tonga earlier this month. This van will allow the eye care team to take their sight-restoring equipment and services on the road to conduct outreaches in various locations around Tonga.
While the team are well equipped to provide eye care from their base at the Vaiola Hospital Eye Clinic on the main island of Tonga, they had noticed an increasing number of patients were unable to complete treatment or attend follow-up appointments because they lived in remote locations. 75% of Tonga's population live in rural villages across the four main island groups, which can make it difficult for people to access the eye care they need. Significant economic barriers, such as not being able to afford the transport cost or take time off work, can also prevent patients from accessing treatment at the community health clinics or the Viaola Hospital Eye Clinic.
With this new van, Dr Duke and his team will be able to take their sight-saving services directly to the communities that need them most. It will ensure their work has a much wider reach, helping to improve access and build greater awareness of good eye care. The eye clinicians in Tonga strongly believe that taking this mobile community approach is an effective way to curb the backlog of patients that has been growing since the COVID 19 lockdowns.
Greater community coverage will also mean patients can be screened for eye conditions earlier on. For conditions like diabetes eye disease, which is the leading cause of avoidable blindness in working-age adults, this is vital, as early detection and treatment are the only way to prevent patients from losing their sight completely. An estimated 19% of Tongans aged 25–64 are affected by diabetes. Most haven’t been diagnosed and don't realise it can lead to blindness.
The eye screening van was generously funded by one of our major donors, Pat Pettit. We are so grateful for her kindness, which has enabled the eye care team in Tonga to provide more comprehensive eye care services. When we asked what motivated her to give, Pat said:
“My sight is the sense which I most value - to see the smiles on the faces of my children and friends, to interact with my precious nine grandchildren and watch them growing, developing and achieving goals. It distresses me greatly that there are people in this world who are needlessly blind or with restricted vision.
I have long admired the work achieved by the Fred Hollows Foundation providing much-needed facilities for the diagnosis and treatment of eye conditions. I feel honoured to be able to facilitate the provision of eye care to outlying areas of Tonga by funding a van for this purpose."
This specialised mobile community approach will go a long way toward reducing the prevalence of avoidable blindness in Tonga.