Fiji | The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ

Fiji

Fiji is the home of the Pacific Eye Institute, the first dedicated eye health training facility in the Pacific. Photo: Kristian Frires.

Fiji is the home of the Pacific Eye Institute, the first dedicated eye health training facility in the Pacific. Photo: Kristian Frires.

Fiji is home to the Pacific Eye Institute, the first dedicated eye health training facility in the Pacific, providing internationally-recognised postgraduate courses in eye care to nurses and doctors.

The Pacific Eye Institute is an integral part of the solution to avoidable blindness, countering the chronic shortage of eye doctors and nurses throughout the region.

Overview

The Fiji Islands are made up of about 330 islands, close to 110 of them uninhabited, with an estimated population of 868,000. Eye nurse Alumita checks a patient's vision at a surgical outreach to Labasa, Fiji. Photo: Sandy SchetemaA third of the islands are inhabited, but the majority of people live on the two main islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.

A multi-racial, multi-cultural nation, Fiji is made up of just over half indigenous Fijians, almost 40 per cent Indian Fijians (Indo-Fijians), and a small proportion of other nationalities including Europeans, Chinese and other Pacific islanders who make up the rest of the island’s population. Fiji is represented by all the major religions of the world: more than half of Fiji's population are Christians, and other religions include Hindu, Muslim and Sikh.

Despite being considered one of the most developed Pacific Island countries, Fiji’s history of political unrest and ethnic tensions has left a large divide between the rich and poor.

Economically, Fiji’s sugar industry provides a great deal of employment and is a vital export commodity. Tourism also provides substantial income for the nation. Fiji is a popular tourist destination for New Zealanders, many of whom are unaware that behind Fiji’s idyllic façade lies a country of great poverty, with a failing health system and, like many of the world’s low-resource nations, a significant level of cataract blindness.

Achievements 2014

  • 19 students graduated from the Pacific Eye Institutute.
  • Performed 1,779 sight-restoring surgeries. 
  • Supported the annual PacEYES Pacific Regional Eye Health Conference for Pacific-based eye care workers.
  • To date have performed 1,419 diabetes laser treatments performed. 
  • 4 training outreaches.

 

About the program

Fiji was one of the first Pacific Island countries in which The Foundation developed programs. Back in 2002, The Foundation organised a workshop for the organisations and community representatives of people working with, or consumers of, prevention of blindness and rehabilitation services. Vision 2020 Fiji was formed out of this meeting, a body intended to co-ordinate the development of a national eye care program in the country and end avoidable blindness by 2020.

The first national eye care plan for Fiji was published by the Ministry of Health in 2005. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of Vision 2020 Fiji in developing a second National Eye Health Plan for the country, public service restructuring and political instability meant that it took until 2012 for this plan to be officially adopted.

A survey was conducted by The Foundation in 2009 which revealed that cataract was the leading cause of blindness in Fiji, and that uncorrected refractive error (the need for spectacles) accounted for 63 per cent of low vision while 25 per cent was caused by cataract and four per cent by diabetic retinopathy. Trauma also was a significant cause of blindness in Fiji.

The Pacific Eye Institute

The Pacific Eye Instiute in Suva, Fiji.The Fred Hollows Foundation's activities in Fiji are carried out through the Pacific Eye Institute.

Training is the cornerstone of The Foundation's work in the Pacific. The Foundation works to a target of one eye nurse per 25,000 people, and one eye doctor per 100,000 people across the Pacific region. To address this need, The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ established The Pacific Eye Institute in 2006, based centrally in Fiji.

The Pacific Eye Institute is the first and only regional training centre for Pacific eye health workers, providing high quality courses devised specifically for conditions in Pacific countries. The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ has devised the courses, established the teaching staff and overseen recruitment of students.

The Institute, which coordinates eye education throughout the Pacific region, trains desperately needed eye doctors and nurses appropriately and supports students with equipment and on-going education when they return to their home countries to restore sight.

The Pacific Eye Institute is led by Dr Jim Stewart, who hails from the Waikato.

Seven post-graduate level courses are offered for eye care professionals across the Pacific:

  • Master of Medicine (MMed (Ophth))
  • Master of Community Eye Care (MCEC)
  • Postgraduate Diploma in Ophthalmology (PGDO)
  • Postgraduate Diploma in Eye Care (PGDEC)
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Eye Care (PGCEC)
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Diabetes Eye Care (PGCDEC)
  • Postgraduate Diploma in the Medical Management of Vitreoretinal and Diabetes Eye Care (PGDMVD)

Diabetes Eye Clinic

The Fred Hollows Foundation opened the new Diabetes Eye Clinic in Suva, Fiji, in June 2012. The purpose built clinic provides vital screening and laser treatment for people with diabetes-related eye disease.

The Diabetes Eye Clinic also provides teaching facilities for those enrolled in the Postgraduate Diploma in Diabetes Eye Care and Postgraduate Diploma in the Medical Management of Vitreoretinal and Diabetes Eye Care, and increased space to house the laser equipment needed to treat diabetic retinopathy.Dr Shereen Aiyub treats a diabetes patient.

The purpose built clinic has four consultation and screening rooms, two rooms for laser treatment, and The Foundation's team will be able to screen and treat high volumes of patients.

The Foundation's Fiji progam is supported by the New Zealand Aid Programme and Australian Aid.

Facts and figures

Eye health
Prevalence of blindness 0.8%
Main causes of blindness Cataract (71.1%)
Number of eye doctors (MMeds) (2012) 4
Number of eye doctors required by 2020 9
Number of eye nurses (2012) 18
Number of eye nurses required by 2020 37
Number of diabetes eye nurses (2012) 12
Number of diabetes eye nurses required by 2020 21
Reasons for low cataract surgical rates and backlog Lack of eye health clinics and resources; difficult physical access to eye clinics; travel costs involved for treatment.
General health
Population 868,000
Urban population 52%
Life expectancy 70 years
Adult literacy rate 93.7%
Under-5 mortality rate (per 1,000 births) 16
Number of doctors (per 10,000 people) 4.3

Sources: World Health Organization: Fiji, UNDP International Human Development Indicators: Fiji.
NB: Number of eye nurses includes those trained by The Foundation currently working as eye nurses. Number of eye doctors includes all doctors with MMed (Ophthalmology) qualifications.

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