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 eye care services. This meant that people with threatening conditions had to wait for visiting outreach teams to receive treatment.
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 ten 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.