Sustainable design paying dividends in delivering equitable eye care

In July 2015, a new eye care centre opened in Honiara, Solomon Islands. The Regional Eye Centre (REC) provides free eye health care to Solomon Islanders and is a training facility for eye care practitioners from across the region. It contains rooms for eye clinics, eye surgery, diabetic retinopathy treatments, minor procedures, sterilisation, stores, admin block, laundry room and classroom training. But what really sets the REC apart, is the fact that the centre was built with sustainability at its core. And that decision is paying dividends in the delivery of eye care in this Pacific nation.

The Pacific Region is disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change with increasingly severe weather disasters and effects on food supply costing governments millions each year. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre predicted that at least 50,000 Pacific people are at risk of losing their homes each year due to climate-related hazards. Low lying island nations such as Solomon Islands are particularly vulnerable, and studies have shown the effects of climate change disproportionately affects women. United Nations figures released in 2018 indicated that 80% of those displaced by climate change are women.

The Regional Eye Centre was commissioned by the Government of Solomon Islands and constructed in collaboration with the Government of New Zealand and The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ to support the Government’s commitment to improve the delivery of eye care in Solomon Islands. It was designed by award-winning New Zealand architects Bossley Architects and constructed by TCS to be durable and sustainable in an often-unpredictable climate, with solar energy delivering 94% of the building’s power. Constructed using durable, sustainably grown New Zealand pine, the REC meets approved earthquake resistance standards, natural disaster and fire safety guidelines, alongside the strict standards required of medical facilities. The REC is now the most advanced eye centre in the Pacific, and it has been adopted as a blueprint for other centres in the region and other large public buildings in Solomon Islands.

The REC’s sustainable design has delivered practical benefits as well. The centre can open year-round, in all climates, regardless of the often-unreliable public power supply allowing it to double the number of patients examined and surgeries conducted since it opened. A modern facility located in Honiara supports more women and girls being able to access eye health. And having a training facility located in-country means female ophthalmologists can conduct a proportion of their study locally rather than having to leave families to travel abroad to increase their professional skills. To date, there have been 42 Solomon Island eye care specialists graduating sponsored by The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ. Of those 22 are female.

The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ, medical director, Dr John Szetu said that a clean, modern centre attracts both patients and those looking to study eye care.

“Word gets around. People want to visit and work in the REC as it has new equipment, a reliable power source and a good reputation,” says Dr John.

The success of the REC has not only seen an increase in eye care outcomes for both men and women in Solomon Islands, it has also acted as a proof of concept, inspiring sustainable public and private building design in Solomon Islands and further afield.

“Initially people were sceptical, but now, every month, I have visitors from both public and private sector organisations looking to learn from the REC’s design and duplicate it within their own organisations,” Dr John said.

Now in its seventh year, the REC has unequivocally proven that designing public facilities sustainably is not only a means to avoiding climate change, it delivers measurable and ongoing benefits across the board as well.

Vision impairment in Solomon Islands:

(8.2% of population)
experiencing vision impairment
52%are female.

Since it opened (to 30 September 2021) the REC has completed:

74,081 eye care consultations
2,931 surgeries
4,898spectacles dispensed
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