Bringing Sight to Alotau

Our Outreach Team recently wrapped up a successful visit to Alotau in the Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea. Milne Bay Province is made up of more than 600 islands, about 160 of which are inhabited, and has limited access to eye care due to its geographical isolation, lack of health care facilities and a shortage of trained medical personnel.

Over two weeks, the team delivered 1,626 eye consultations, a huge achievement that highlights the pressing need for eye care services in this remote region. 193 sight-restoring eye surgeries were then performed, including 140 cataract surgeries, and 367 pairs of spectacles were dispensed.

We are incredibly grateful to Digicel Foundation PNG for their grant that allowed us to deliver eye care services people in this region otherwise would not have had access to.

In addition to this, with the support of the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), we collaborated with the Milne Bay Provincial Health Authority, Callan Services and Milne Bay Council of Women to conduct health promotion to ensure persons living with disabilities and women had equitable access to eye care services. Working with these community-based organisations meant we could leverage their local networks and knowledge to help to spread awareness and reach even more people.

With their support, eye screenings were conducted at schools, an early childhood education centre, community health centres, a women's safe house, a correctional institute, as well as at the hospital to reach as many people as possible. This comprehensive approach ensured many patients were pre-screened. Over the course of the outreach, around 60% of patients were new walk-ins who had heard about the outreach through relatives, public notices, and the media.

Left: Cornelius before surgery with visible cataracts in both of his eyes. Right: Cornelius all smiles leaving the outreach after two successful eye operations.
Left: Cornelius before surgery with visible cataracts in both of his eyes. Right: Cornelius all smiles leaving the outreach after two successful eye operations.

One of the patients seen during this outreach was Cornelius, 53, who could only perceive light due to his bilateral cataracts. Cornelius had originally made the 24hour trip to Alotau from his village on Goodenough Island in 2022 when we heard about our first outreach to the area. Sadly, upon arrival, he found he just missed the outreach team. Unable to travel back safely, he stayed in Alotau with family, waiting two years for the next outreach.

Life without sight was challenging for Cornelius, who struggled to perform daily tasks like gardening and building. Despite his struggles, he remained hopeful. Finally, during this outreach, Cornelius was one of the lucky few to receive surgery on both eyes. He expressed his nervousness before the surgery but was overjoyed with the outcome. His friend who brought him in for his surgeries and checkups was amazed at the Cornelius's newfound confidence, remarking "Look at this chatterbox!".

Cornelius plans to return home after nearly two years of waiting for his sight to be restored. "When you are blind, it’s like you’re in a cell. It’s exhausting," he said, reflecting on his long journey. Now, he feels confident and overjoyed, expressing gratitude to The Fred Hollows Foundation PNG and his friend Steve for their support.

Another focus of these outreaches is training and skill development. The visiting team, which included three eye doctors, four eye nurses, and support staff, worked alongside local eye nurses, providing support, up-skilling, and skills transfer to help build a strong local eye care workforce.

Thank you again to everyone we partnered with on this outreach. Their contributions, alongside the support of our generous donors, make it possible for us to bring sight and hope to those in need.

The Outreach Team
The Outreach Team
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