With a small population and a shortage of doctors, Tonga relies on eye nurses and health workers to provide most of the eye care services. This means people with threatening conditions must wait for visiting outreach teams to receive treatment. While an estimated 19 per cent of Tongans aged 25–64 are affected by diabetes, most haven’t been diagnosed and don't realise it can lead to blindness.
We began sending outreach teams to Tonga in 2002 to provide eye care services with the long-term goal of training a local Tongan eye care workforce. Today there are six Foundation-trained eye nurses and one doctor in training. Dr Duke Mataka will graduate in 2018 and return to Tonga as a fully qualified eye doctor.
Eye care professionals are employed by the Ministry of Health, but our graduates often return home to find they don't have the equipment and facilities they need. In 2017 we equipped the clinic in Tonga’s capital city of Nuku’alofa with essential eye care equipment. This means when Dr Duke Mataka returns the eye care team can operate at full capacity.
We're also raising awareness within the health sector of diabetes and its effects on the eye. This involves training health nurses to recognise and refer diabetic patients to an eye clinic. This is really important for reaching people in remote villages.