With our teams navigating Tropical Cyclone Cody, the eruption of Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai and subsequent tsunami and a third wave of COVID-19 disruptions all in the first weeks of the year, it certainly hasn’t been a gentle beginning to 2022. Eye care teams across the Pacific are working harder than ever providing eye care in line with their respective ministry of health requirements in very difficult circumstances.
COVID-19 has now reached smaller island communities placing huge pressure on already fragile health systems. Thanks to your support, we are supporting local ministries of health and eye care teams by providing eye clinics with additional PPE and COVID-19 rapid antigen tests (RATs). To ensure patients and staff are as protected as possible from COVID-19, our Fiji-based Pacific Clinical Quality Assurance Advisor, Sereima, is working with country managers and clinic leads across the Pacific to ensure that standard operating procedures remain abreast of the ever-changing COVID-19 situation in each country.
While the situation changes daily, here is a quick update on how our people are faring across the Pacific region this week.
Dr Duke and his team worked day and night to clean ash and mud from the Vaiola Hospital Eye Clinic in Apia following the eruption of Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai, and his team began conducting appointments and surgeries last week. However, due to the recent lockdowns imposed following the identification of COVID-19 cases in the country, the clinic is now conducting emergency surgeries only. We have sent a water distiller to Tonga to replace the one damaged in the eruption, to ensure surgeries can continue safely.
The Kiribati Government has extended its state of emergency by another month as COVID-19 infections continue to climb. The state has also extended the curfew in Betio, South Tarawa, and Buota for another seven days to contain the spread of the virus. Eye nurses and doctors have been redeployed into general emergency roles to cope with demand caused by the pandemic leaving Dr Rabebe working with a skeleton staff.
Samoa is currently at alert level two so Dr Lucilla and her team at the Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital Eye Clinic, Apia are working within Ministry of Health restrictions to keep people as safe as possible from COVID-19. This means they cannot see as many patients as they could before, and the patient backlog is growing by the day.
Kirti, Sereima, Dr Mundi, Dr Biu and the team at the Pacific Eye Institute in Suva are hard at work within Ministry of Health guidelines. A raft of procedures to keep staff and patients as safe as possible include weekly COVID-19 tests for all clinical staff.
To address a significant backlog of patients requiring care in Central division, Dr Mundi and his team have deployed the Mobile Eye Clinic as a third operating theatre so they can treat as many people as possible.
Solomon Islands is operating with a 5pm-8am curfew to manage a growing number of COVID-19 cases. The Regional Eye Clinic is currently closed, and outreaches have been put on hold. When it reopens clinical staff will be tested for COVID-19 weekly.
The Vanuatu National Eye Centre is open for basic services. We are currently working with the Ministry of Health to recruit more clinical staff to support the national eye care team.
The Madang eye clinic is operating on emergency cases only with strict COVID-19 protocols as set out by the PNG National Department of Health in place. Staff exhibiting any flu symptoms must stay home which is putting some pressure on capacity. To help keep everyone in touch and well-supported, additional weekly catch ups have been put in place.
Ten students are travelling to Madang this week to begin studying towards the Advanced Diploma in Eye Care at Divine Word University. Classrooms and living quarters have been upgraded to comply with COVID-19 protocols including the installation of sanitisers, handwashing stations. Students will be required to wear a mask and social distance in classrooms.
We know our support will be needed more than ever in the coming months as both cities and remote communities struggle with COVID-19 outbreaks and government resources continue to be stretched. Thank you once again for your ongoing generosity and support. It is making a huge difference in challenging times.