Shaping the Future of Eye Health: Highlights from the PacEYES 20th Anniversary Conference

The Pacific Eye Care Society (PacEYES) celebrated a significant milestone last week as they successfully hosted their biennial Pacific eye health conference in Suva, Fiji. This event marked not only the first conference since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the 20th anniversary of PacEYES. As a key partner of PacEYES, The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ is proud to have supported this important gathering.

Over 140 participants attended the two-day conference, including eye doctors, nurses, and technicians from 13 countries across Oceania, making it one of the largest assemblies of eye health workers in the Pacific. Representatives from The Pacific Community (SPC), The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ, Pasifika Medical Association (PMA) and the International Agency of Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) were also in attendance as support partners.

The conference was aptly themed ‘Eye Care for All’, underscoring the goal to expand access to quality eye care across the Pacific region. It provided a valuable platform for eye health leaders to discuss pressing challenges, celebrate successes, and seize opportunities to strengthen eye health systems.

Representatives from each country waving their flags during the opening ceremony
Representatives from each country waving their flags during the opening ceremony

During the conference, a range of significant topics were addressed. These included advancements in eye care technology and treatments, regional workforce challenges, primary eye care and community outreach programmes, strategies for tackling preventable blindness and visual impairments, capacity building and professional development, and collaborative approaches to managing regional eye health challenges.

One of the primary focal points of the conference was the rising rates of diabetes in the region and its direct correlation to vision loss, as it increases the likelihood of blindness by 25 times. The participants emphasised the importance of eye health planning as an integral part of overall health planning processes and the urgent need to strengthen eye health information systems.

There was also an explicit recognition of the successes in women’s leadership in eye health and the imperative to sustain this growth. Additionally, the unique workforce needs of smaller island countries due to their geographical spread was a major point of discussion, emphasising that workforce development strategies need to accommodate these circumstances.

The event also included two pre-conference days where Ophthalmology Heads of Departments, senior ophthalmic nurse representatives, and National Eye Care Coordinators discussed opportunities to develop and strengthen their national eye health plans, the importance of clinical governance frameworks, research, leadership development, and strategic planning.

Participants engaging in a strategy workshop
Participants engaging in a strategy workshop

Former PacEYES President, Dr Elenoa Matoto-Raikabakaba, stressed the importance of regional level approaches to meet eye care demand, given the time and resources required to develop ophthalmic specialist and sub-specialist service capacity. This was echoed by Dr Paula Vivili, Deputy Director General Science and Capability of the Pacific Community, who lauded the work done to build a robust regional workforce, adding that complacency was not an option.

The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ, proud to be a support partner for the conference, reasserts our commitment to continue working alongside our training partners and Ministries of Health. Dr Audrey Aumua, the Chief Executive Officer of The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ, emphasised this by stating that we are dedicated to ensuring the continued growth and resilience of the ophthalmic workforce.

Reflecting on the conference, it is clear that while there have been remarkable strides made in developing the eye health workforce and strengthening quality eye health services, there is still a long journey ahead. As the prevalence of vision loss is projected to markedly increase in the coming decades, the need for collaborative efforts, such as the PacEYES Conference, becomes more crucial.

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