Fiji and PNG teams manage COVID outbreaks, eye care continues elsewhere

As COVID-19 outbreaks in Fiji and Papua New Guinea put communities and healthcare systems under considerable pressure and force eye care to emergency-only footing, The Foundation continues to conduct sight-saving outreaches in the Pacific when it is safe to do so.

In Fiji, staff and students are supporting the Fiji Ministry of Health’s eye care services while finding new ways of working in challenging circumstances. The Fiji team continues to work remotely in line with local health authority directives. In addition, eye doctors are conducting online consultations and providing remote support to eye care graduates and students based in local hospitals.

The Fiji Ministry of Health is currently utilising the operating theatre at the Pacific Eye Institute for general surgery to provide much-needed emergency capacity for Suva’s Colonial War Memorial Hospital. The Foundation has also provided equipment and PPE to the emergency eye care departments in Fiji’s central division to ensure emergency eye surgery can continue throughout the lockdown.

Foundation Medical Director, Dr John Szetu, says, “Our priority remains ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our staff, students and, patients and supporting the Ministry of Health’s eye care and COVID-19 priorities in any way that we can as they manage the current outbreak.”

With zero current recorded COVID-19 cases, the Solomon Islands Eye Care Team has doubled down on eye care outreaches to clear increased need created by restrictions last year. Between January and May, the Solomon Islands Outreach Team has collectively completed eight outreaches to outer areas of the country, seeing 783 patients. Dr John says outreach work is central to improving access to eye care in Solomon Islands where roads can be washed out by rain, and many people travel by boat.”

Local man Patson, who received sight-saving cataract surgery at a recent five-day outreach led by Foundation graduate Dr Carole Poloso, had been completely blind since 2019 due to no access to specialist eye care on Malaita Island, where he lives. Dependant on his nephew’s family since losing his sight, Patson was overjoyed to regain not just his sight but his independence as well.

“Access to eye care is a challenge we face in Solomon Islands and other Pacific countries. It is not easy for an average person to travel around the country and nearly impossible for somebody who is blind. Outreach clinics are the only way many people can access eye screening and surgery,” says Dr John.

Over the last five months, The Fred Hollows Foundation Outreach Teams have seen 2953 patients and conducted 221 eye surgeries in seven Pacific countries.

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