Dr John Szetu honoured for remarkable contributions to preventing blindness in the Pacific

Pacific eye doctor John Szetu has been recognised for his instrumental work in preventing blindness.

Following 36 years of delivering eye care across the Pacific Islands, Dr Szetu was awarded the Outstanding Service in Prevention of Blindness Award at the recent Asia Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology (APAO) Congress.

The award recognises individuals or organisations whose contributions are instrumental in preventing blindness in the Asia-Pacific region.

Dr Szetu, Medical Director for The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ, is based at the Regional Eye Centre in Solomon Islands. He has been delivering eye care in the Pacific since 1988 and has worked with The Foundation helping to restore sight for 23 years.

This latest award adds to his myriad of achievements, including (with the support of The Foundation and its Pacific partners) establishing the Pacific Eye Institute in 2006, a training centre for Pacific eye health workers located in Suva, Fiji. He was also one of the founders of the Pacific Eye Care Society (PacEYES) formed to represent the interests of eye care professionals working in the Pacific Islands region. During his career he has also been awarded the Eye Health Hero Award by the International Agency for Prevention of Blindness (IAPB).

This is the second time Dr Szetu has been recognised by the APAO, having also received its Distinguished Service Award last year.

“I got a surprise this year to be awarded yet another award. It was an honour to receive two awards in two consecutive years,” he says.

“I was really happy to represent the Pacific, alongside Dr Jambi Garap - who received this year’s Distinguished Service Award. It feels good to be seen and to know that I am valued.”

Dr Garap is a Senior Ophthalmologist, based in Papua New Guinea, and President of the National Prevention of Blindness Committee (PBL) – a close partner of The Foundation.

Dr John Szetu preparing for surgery during an outreach in Solomon Islands
Dr John Szetu preparing for surgery during an outreach in Solomon Islands

Dr Szetu has long recognised the importance of training Pacific eye health workers to deliver eye care in their own communities and has always advocated strongly for formalising ophthalmic training, both of doctors and nurses, in the Pacific.

He has an impressive track record in designing and implementing eye care training courses, and personally regards his greatest achievement as the 370 plus eye care graduates that he, and The Foundation, have supported through training.

“We started two decades ago with only a handful of doctors and eye nurses in the region, now six of the key countries The Foundation works with, have at least one doctor supported by nurses in their clinics – which is a big achievement,” he says.

The growth of the Pacific Eye Institute, and the upcoming construction of the Centre for Eye Health in Papua New Guinea , are also “game changers” for improving the quality of eye care in the region, Dr Szetu says.

The Centre for Eye Health, to be located in Port Moresby, will provide quality training and on-going support for more eye doctors and nurses, and specialised eye care services for the country.

“What’s motivated me is that when we started, the Pacific region didn’t have appropriate eye care facilities - that’s why The Foundation came in to work with Pacific partners to train local doctors and nurses and establish facilities in the regions, so each country can provide their own services.

“What keeps me going is that there is still a lot more work to do, as there are a few gaps in a few countries still. What I want to see in the future is each country reaching a stage where they can function effectively on their own in terms of eye care services, with The Foundation still available to lend support.”

The Asia Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology (APAO) Awards were held as part of the 39th APAO Congress in Bali, Indonesia, at the end of February.

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