Our team in Papua New Guinea recently conducted a cataract outreach in Maprik, East Sepik Province where a record number of patients underwent sight-restoring eye surgery. The outreach, sponsored by Digicel PNG Foundation, was a result of ongoing cataract screenings conducted over the last two years in the province and was made possible thanks to the partnership of non-government organisations and provincial health authorities in the country.
East Sepik Province has some of the highest numbers of cataract patients, with many unable to access treatment. Boram General Hospital in Wewak, the main hospital in the province, doesn’t have a resident eye doctor and the cost of travelling to another centre is a barrier for many patients. Upon invitation from the Boram Eye Clinic and Callan Services, an outreach was set up so that the team could travel to rural areas and bring their eye care services to the people, some of who have not had access to eye care for years.
The Outreach team included four eye doctors; Dr. David Pahau, Dr. Kerek Apisai, Dr. Magdalene Mangot and Dr. Waimbe Wahamu, and support staff from Callan Services Inclusive Eye Health, Callan Services Maprik, Boram Eye Clinic, Port Moresby General Hospital Eye Unit and the Goroka Eye Unit.
They set up a clinic at Brigiti Community Health Centre, a rural centre located ten minutes outside of Maprik town, where patients from the surrounding areas streamed in. The majority of patients recorded were from Maprik district, while others came from Yangoru-Saussia, Wosera-Gawi, Drekikir, Lumi, Nuku, Angoram and Wewak. So many patients arrived that the team extended the two-week outreach for an additional week to ensure they could see as many people as possible.
The team worked long days to be able to treat as many patients as possible, with those with the most severe cases given priority for surgery. After facing challenges with electricity during the first week, the eye doctors performed up to 40 operations a day.
In total, over 1,600 patient consultations took place, and over 480 sight-saving surgeries were performed. This was well over the expected target and goes to show both the dedication of the Outreach team and the great need for accessible eye care in the region.