NZ Government announces $18.9m funding for a purpose-built eye care training and service centre in Papua New Guinea

The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ has warmly welcomed the NZ Government announcement of $18.9 million funding towards the construction of a purpose-built eye care training and service centre in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

The investment will support the development of a new training facility for eye care specialists in PNG and represents a significant milestone in the ongoing partnership between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), The Foundation and Pacific ministries and departments of health to providing equitable access to healthcare for people throughout the Pacific.

Announced during a visit to The University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) this afternoon (May 13), Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters said, “Papua New Guinea has one of the highest rates of blindness in the world. The construction of this state-of-the-art facility will support both the delivery of essential eye health services to patients, and eye health training to health professionals.”

Located within the shared campus of Port Moresby General Hospital (PMGH) and UPNG’s School of Medical and Health Sciences, the PNG Centre for Eye Health (CfEH) will enable the provision of eye care services and the training of eye care workers including eye doctors, eye nurses, eye care clinicians and optometrists.

The CfEH will work in close partnership with the PNG National Department of Health and provincial health authorities, and the PNG National Prevention of Blindness committee - which represents eye health stakeholders.

Dr Simon Melengas, Chief Ophthalmologist of PNG, says, “The CfEH will raise the standard in the delivery of eye health care services for PNG. It will be a higher-level education hub that will develop the human resources needed to provide eye health services in PNG. This is in line with the National Health Plan as it will provide ophthalmologists, optometrists and other cadres of eye health workforce needed to serve in the 22 provinces in PNG.”

“It will also be a research centre for eye health in PNG. The Centre will be a hub for advocacy for eye health and for networking with other organisations involved in non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as diabetes - which affects the eye and is on the rise in PNG. This is a great example of a Public-Private-Partnership approach that will be of great benefit to eye health care in PNG."

The Foundation has been working in PNG for over 20 years supporting the strengthening of the eye health system in a sustainable and equitable way.

Dr Audrey Aumua, Chief Executive Officer of The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ, stressed the impact the CfEH will have for Papua New Guineans in need, and in helping to eliminate avoidable blindness across the region.

“In recent years, research and data have made it clear that more eye care support is required in PNG. With one of the highest rates of avoidable blindness and vision impairment, and some of the most challenging development indicators in the world, it is vital that investment in PNG’s health system is significantly increased,” Dr Aumua said.

“The Foundation is responding to this, and to requests from our partners, by increasing our focus on supporting the training of more eye doctors. The support of the NZ Government is crucial in allowing us to continue this vital work.”

Since 2007, The Foundation has supported the specialist training of 130 eye nurses and eye care clinicians, and six eye doctors in PNG.

However, currently in PNG only eight provinces out of 22 have a resident eye doctor, whereas the long-term goal is for every province to have an eye doctor and a team of eye nurses and eye care clinicians, resulting in a significant expansion of access to eye care services for communities across PNG. Through this significant investment, The Foundation will be able to support this strategic goal for the PNG eye sector.

“Currently demand cannot be met, and training and clinical facilities lack the space and equipment required to deliver a high-quality eye graduate training programme for eye doctors in PNG,” Dr Aumua said.

“The CfEH will support the strengthening of inclusive and equitable eye health services countrywide - by increasing the eye care workforce based across PNG’s provinces, with the aim to reduce barriers to accessing eye care services.”

The MFAT funding commitment is one of the largest Official Development Assistance investments ever made into eye health globally. The Foundation would also like to acknowledge the support of the Australian Government that funds eye health work in PNG through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), which responds to the development preferences of Australians. Australian funding will support building the capacity of the eye health workforce; equipping eye clinics in remote and regional areas; and, supporting patient access to eye care services through outreach.

In addition to this funding, The Fred Hollows Foundation in Australia and The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ will make up the total development costs of $32.2 million.

Ian Wishart, Chief Executive Officer of The Fred Hollows Foundation in Australia, said the new eye health centre would transform access to eye healthcare in PNG.

“What we are doing with this new eye centre will improve livelihoods and economic wellbeing as people’s sight is restored. It won’t just benefit the people living in Port Moresby, it will also reach the more rural and remote areas of PNG,” Mr Wishart said.

“This eye centre captures the essence of Fred’s approach – working where the need is greatest to ensure everyone has access to quality eye care when they need it.”

The Centre has been designed to have a lasting impact. Through climate proofing and an energy and water efficient design - including a solar power system and rainwater catchment - the centre will provide high quality, reliable and sustainable operations. This together with increased surgical capacity, fully equipped clinics, and dedicated specialised supervision, training, and management support, will support the goal of having two eye doctors graduating every year by 2030.

Construction of the CfEH is scheduled to commence in late 2024 and be completed in early 2026. The facility will be owned by the PNG Government via the National Department of Health and will be central to helping PNG to tackle its current high prevalence of avoidable blindness and vision impairment.

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