The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ opens new National Eye Centre in Vanuatu

Photographed: Chief Willy Plasua, Dr Johnson Kasso, Andrew Bell, Kath Watson, Debbie Sorensen, His Excellency David Ward, His Excellency Jonathan Schwass, Jimmy Lunar Tasso, George Taleo, Jerome Ludvaun, Russell Tamata, Samuel Posokai, Len Tarivonda.

The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ is delighted to announce that the new Vanuatu National Eye Centre in Port Vila has been opened by the Vanuatu Minister of Health, the Honourable Norris Jack Kalmet, following a $2.5 million upgrade and expansion of the previous centre.

The upgraded eye centre, combined with the recent return of a Foundation-trained eye doctor, will go a long way to increasing Vanuatu’s eye surgery capacity from 200 to 800 per year. This will meet the target surgical rate to eliminate avoidable blindness in the country, as estimated by the World Health Organization.

The Honourable Norris Jack Kalmet noted in his speech, “Today is a landmark in the history of Vanuatu health services and I would like to sincerely thank The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ for funding the centre.”

Over 100 people attended the opening event including several New Zealand donors and Foundation trustees Debbie Sorensen and Kath Watson. Debbie Sorensen spoke on behalf of The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ Trust Board and underlined the Board’s commitment to Fred’s vision of a world where no one is needlessly blind.

Andrew Bell, Executive Director of The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ, says, “The new eye centre has only been made possible through the support of our incredible donors. We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to everyone that so generously donates to our Foundation - you have helped the people of Vanuatu gain access to high-quality eye care services.”

The New Zealand High Commissioner to Vanuatu, His Excellency Jonathan Schwass, was also in attendance representing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade New Zealand Aid Programme, who provided significant funding towards the new eye centre. “New Zealand government’s support for the centre comes on top of a five-year multi-million-dollar Pacific-wide New Zealand program called Strengthening Pacific Eye Care Services. The overall objective is to prevent and reduce avoidable blindness and visual impairment through increased access to high-quality eye care in the Pacific,” said His Excellency Jonathan Schwass.

Also at the event was Dr Johnson Kasso, who recently graduated as an eye doctor from The Foundation’s training programme at the Pacific Eye Institute in Fiji. Dr Kasso has now returned to his home country to become Vanuatu’s only permanent eye doctor.

With the new eye centre open and Dr Kasso on board, not only will Vanuatu’s eye surgery capacity dramatically increase, but the escalating number of diabetes eye care patients in Vanuatu will be able to receive better treatment.

As well as the official opening of the new clinic, the event saw a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Government of Vanuatu and The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ. The Memorandum of Understanding focuses on the two parties strengthening the national eye care system of Vanuatu as a whole, with a special focus on maintaining the new eye centre in Port Vila, training and supporting eye care professionals across the country, and ensuring the national eye programme is informed by evidence, best practice and research.

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