The Vanuatu National Eye Centre in Port Vila is celebrating reaching a zero-patient backlog for the first time in several years. This is a massive achievement for the Eye Centre, which back in 2018 had over 400 patients on its backlog waiting to receive eye surgery. The minimisation of the backlog was achieved by a Foundation-supported outreach, attended by Dr Johnson Kasso and Dr Andronico Ly, with support from the Vanuatu Ministry of Health.
In 2018 there was only one eye doctor, Dr Johnson Kasso, servicing a population of approximately 300,000 scattered across Vanuatu's 65 inhabited islands. The Pacific Eye Institute Outreach Teams would travel over when possible to assist our partner, the Vanuatu Ministry of Health, to run outreaches at the Vanuatu National Eye Centre, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these were paused for two years, further exacerbating the backlog issue.
Several strides have been made in improving local eye care services, including a $2.5 million upgrade and expansion of the Vanuatu National Eye Centre in Port Vila in 2018, which helped to increase Vanuatu’s eye surgery capacity from 200 to 800 per year. Workforce training has also been a major focus. We now have 14 Foundation-sponsored eye nurse and eye care clinician graduates working in the country, and this year Dr Andronico Ly joined the team at the National Eye Centre as Senior Consultant Ophthalmologist. Previously employed as the Head of Department for Ophthalmology in Timor Leste, Dr Ly now works alongside Dr Kasso, who leads the eye programme in the southern part of Vanuatu.
With a zero-patient backlog, patients can now be booked in for eye surgery without having to wait a long time from their initial consultation. This is especially important for conditions like diabetes eye disease which, if left untreated, can lead to irreversible vision deterioration and ultimately blindness.
The Vanuatu National Eye Centre’s journey from a sizeable backlog to none is testament to the importance of building local capacity and investing in infrastructure. This achievement also arrives just in time for the country to undergo its first ever Rapid Assessment of Avoidable Blindness (RAAB) survey.
The RAAB survey, which we are running in partnership with the Vanuatu Ministry of Health,
New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and JN & HB Williams Foundation will determine the burden of blindness and vision impairment in the country. It is widely used in the global eye sector, but this will be only the second of its kind run in the Pacific.
For Vanuatu, the RAAB will involve four survey teams, comprised of eye doctors, nurses, and local community workers, surveying 5,675 people over the age of 50 from August to early October. In keeping with Professor Fred Hollows’ vision of ‘No Survey Without Service’, any patients identified as requiring treatment during the RAAB will be referred to the local eye clinic.
The resulting data will be key in delivering effective eye services for underserved people and communities. As well, with a better understanding of the burden of vision loss, Vanuatu and its partners, will be better placed to advocate for, and build national eye care plans.