The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ Partners with UPNG to Offer Scholarships for Eye Doctors

In an exciting new collaboration, The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ (The Foundation) has partnered with the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) to offer scholarships for eye doctor training in Papua New Guinea (PNG), a first in the Foundation's history. This partnership is a vital component of The Foundation's broader commitment in PNG, most notably the Papua New Guinea Centre for Eye Health (PNG CfEH), an initiative aimed at building resilient, equitable, and sustainable eye health systems. This key addition has made this year the biggest yet for our training programmes, with 37 students in total receiving support to study in Fiji and Papua New Guinea (PNG).

The scholarships support a diverse group of Master of Medicine and Post Graduate Diploma in Ophthalmology students from various PNG provinces. Previously responsible for their own costs, these students will now receive comprehensive support including course fees, textbooks, equipment, and travel assistance for essential activities. This initiative not only eases the financial burden on students but also strengthens the pool of local eye care professionals. These scholarships have been generously supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs through their Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

Dr Helen Dulcie Ipauki, one of the scholarship recipients, has said that this support has been very encouraging and allowed her to focus on her classes without worry. “It means a lot to me; it means that people are going out of their way to provide for us so that we can further our education. I feel very honoured to be a recipient of such a scholarship and I know I must do my part to honour this commitment.”

The partnership between The Foundation and UPNG, which began in 2020, is a direct response to the 2017 Rapid Assessment of Avoidable Blindness (RAAB) survey in PNG that highlighted the country's critical eye health challenges. A key factor in PNG’s high rates of avoidable blindness is the lack of local eye care workforce - currently only 8 of 22 provinces have a resident eye doctor.

This collaboration is further strengthened by the work of Dr. Sudesh Subedi, a senior lecturer at UPNG, whose placement was a strategic step towards enhancing the PNG CfEH. The Centre, developed in collaboration with PNG’s National Department of Health, UPNG, Port Moresby General Hospital, and funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is a major endeavour by The Foundation and its partners to address the severe shortage of eye doctors in the region.

Dr Audrey Aumua, The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ's CEO, reflecting on the partnership with UPNG, stated, "Pacific island countries continue to be challenged by shortages in the eye care workforce. Partnering with, and supporting training institutions like UPNG, is a key step towards building a quality, representative, and sustainable eye care workforce.”

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