COVID-19 significantly impacts Fred Hollows’ sight-saving work in the Pacific

As COVID-19 continues throughout the globe, the impact of the pandemic in the Pacific is of immense concern.

Although the number of COVID-19 cases remains low throughout the Pacific, economies in this region are largely reliant on tourism. With this industry essentially coming to a halt, people in Pacific countries are facing unprecedented levels of unemployment and poverty.

In Fiji, where The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ supports the Pacific Eye Institute (an eye care facility that trains eye doctors and nurses and provides free eye care to the Fijian people), a State of Emergency was declared in late March and lasted for three months.

This meant much of our work in Fiji was forced to a halt, with our eye doctors only able to treat emergency conditions. Ultimately 13,000 Fijians with deteriorating eyesight could not be seen by our eye care team, and 1,500 surgeries were unable to be performed.

The impact of this is especially felt by Fijian’s suffering from Diabetes Eye Disease. The COVID-19 shutdown meant 20 Diabetes Eye Disease Outreaches were cancelled. This is tragic because left untreated Diabetes Eye Disease can deteriorate a person’s sight to irreversible total blindness.

Ashita (pictured) is 25 years old and had to quit her job as a Customs Officer due to her severely compromised sight - the result of Diabetes Eye Disease. Initially, she was treated with injections, with follow-up treatment scheduled at regular intervals to help prevent her eyesight from deteriorating further.

During the State of Emergency, these follow-ups could not happen and Ashita’s eyesight got worse. Now nothing can now be done to restore her sight. For Ashita, this is tragic. But she is just one of thousands in desperate need of treatment in Fiji.

Now that Fiji is out of the State of Emergency, we have resumed our sight-saving work. To make up for the lost time and see everyone whose sight continues to deteriorate with each passing day, we have outlined a bold plan for the next three months:

  • 3725 patient consultations
  • 560 surgeries
  • 19 Diabetes Eye Disease Outreaches, providing sight-saving laser treatment.

The Foundation is currently running an appeal to help cover the costs of these actions, which will go a considerable way to helping clear the backlog of patients that desperately need eye care treatment in Fiji.

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