To mark World Sight Day on October 9th, The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ announces the opening of a new operating theatre in Papua New Guinea. The construction will stand alongside a recently refurbished clinic in Madang and double the amount of people who can get their sight restored in the region.
Andrew Bell, Executive Director for The Foundation says the expansion will have a major impact.
“Papua New Guinea is the frontline in the fight against preventable blindness,” Bell says. “The Foundation is committed to training local specialists but they also need good facilities to deliver quality eye care.”
Papua New Guinea has only nine eye doctors for a population of 7.2 million. The chronic lack of expertise means that thousands of people suffer from blindness that is curable. The Foundation offers free eye surgery to people with cataracts and a range of other eye problems.
Bell says the new investment in infrastructure – set to open in November – is proof of The Foundation’s commitment to helping people in Papua New Guinea. Bell says close to 1000 people will have their sight restored in the new operating theatre, in the first year alone.
“The new operating theatre represents The Foundation’s determination to change the story of blindness in the region,” says Bell. “I believe Fred Hollows would be very proud to see his legacy in action.”
According to Bell, the new building will increase the number of surgeries and the amount of training. Even more important, Bell says, is the message it sends to the local population.
“Eye care is not a luxury service for the developed world, it’s a basic human right,” says Bell. “Having a first rate new operating theatre will bring more people in for treatment, and will also inspire some of the best local doctors and nurses to get involved in eye care.”
The operating theatre was designed to international standards by Bossley Architects and has had materials supplied by New Zealand specialists Timber Constructions Solutions (TCS) who have a proven track record for delivering durable buildings in the region. Local contractors were employed to build the facility on the grounds of Modilon Hospital in Madang. It cost $626,000 to build the new operating theatre and $191,000 to renovate the neighbouring clinic, which will include a teaching space.
To help show the human face of avoidable blindness, The Foundation produced a short film about a patient named Bibiane who had transformative cataract surgery earlier this year. The video has been included in the Human Rights Film Festival in Papua New Guinea. It premiered on September 26th in Port Moresby and will be screened around the country in the coming weeks as part of the festival selection.
Bell says the video is a strong reminder of the importance and urgency of The Foundation’s work.
“Bibiane is one of thousands of patients who are able to see again,” Bell says. “Right now all across Papua New Guinea there are patients like her that are suffering with the isolation of blindness that can be cured. This new operating theatre will increase our ability to help more people like Bibiane.”
This year’s World Sight Day focuses on the theme: No More Avoidable Blindness. The primary goal of The Foundation is to restore sight to the needlessly blind through the provision of sight-saving surgeries and treatments, and by training local eye health specialists to deliver eye care services in their own communities.