Where we work

Tonga

Tonga is a remote collection of islands in the tropics. With a strained public health sector, many people are suffering from diabetes eye disease that threatens to rob their sight.

What are the eye health problems?

Tonga's steep increase in obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease are the most important health problems for Tonga. 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.

With a small population and a shortage of doctors, Tonga has historically relied on eye nurses and health workers to provide most of the eye care services. This meant that people with threatening conditions had to wait for visiting outreach teams to receive treatment.

Our work in Tonga

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 nine Foundation-trained eye nurses and one doctor. Dr Duke Mataka graduated in 2018 and returned 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 meant that upon Dr Duke's graduation at the end of 2018, he returned home to lead the local eye care team, who can now 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 crucial so that people diagnosed with diabetes in remote villages, know that they need to get their eyes checked.

The team get together to discuss the programme for the day, which will involve consultations, surgeries and follow-ups.
Daniel, age four, developed a cataract after an eye trauma

Progress in sight

  • Dr Duke Mataka returned home to Tonga after he completed his training in 2018 as a fully qualified ophthalmologist.
  • Nine Foundation-trained eye nurses are currently working in Tonga. One of them trained at our Pacific Eye Institute in retinal laser treatment; a procedure to prevent further loss of sight from diabetes eye disease.
  • In 2018 our Pacific outreach team travelled to Tonga and performed 121 sight-saving surgeries.

Where we work

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