Where we work

Tonga

Tonga is a remote collection of islands bathed in the warm weather of the tropics. With a strained public health sector, many adults here are suffering from sight threatening diabetes.

What are the eye health problems?

With a small population and shortage of doctors, Tonga relies on eye nurses and mid-level health workers to provide the majority of eye care services. This means people with more threatening eye health conditions must wait for visiting outreach teams to receive treatment, such as our Pacific outreach team based in Fiji.

Another threat to eye health in Tonga is the prevalence of diabetes. An estimated 19 percent of Tongans aged 25–64 are affected, the majority of whom have not been diagnosed. An unfortunate reality is that many patients who are aware they have diabetes don't realise it can lead to blindness.

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 to serve the needs of the population. Today there are six Foundation-trained eye nurses working in Tonga. We also have one doctor currently in training. Dr Duke Mataka will graduate in 2018 and return to Tonga as a fully qualified eye doctor.

Eye care professionals in Tonga are employed by the local Ministry of Health, however our graduates often return home to find they don't have the equipment and clinical facilities they need to do their jobs. In 2017 we equipped the clinic in Tonga’s capital city of Nuku’alofa with essential eye care equipment. This means that when Dr Duke Mataka returns as a qualified eye doctor, the eye care team can operate at full capacity.

We're also working towards increasing 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 also important in reaching patients in remote villages who have limited access to eye care services.

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 is studying to become a qualified eye doctor at the Pacific Eye Institute in Fiji. He will be our first eye doctor from Tonga and will return home after he completes his training in 2018.
  • Six Foundation-trained eye nurses are currently working in Tonga. One of these nurses also trained at our Pacific Eye Institute in retinal laser treatment — a procedure to prevent loss of sight from diabetic retinopathy.
  • In 2017, our Pacific outreach team travelled to Tonga twice, basing themselves for one week each in Nuku'alofa and Vava'u. The team provided 229 sight-saving surgeries across the two outreaches.

Where we work

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