Discover Papua New Guinea | The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ

Discover Papua New Guinea

On the water in Papua New Guinea. Photo: Hugh Rutherford.

On the water in Papua New Guinea. Photo: Hugh Rutherford.

The Foundation has an office in Madang where it works closely with the Divine Word University to provide training to eye health professionals.

Jean waits prior to her cataract surgery at Alotau Hospital by The Foundation's team from Madang. Photo: Lisa CrandallPapua New Guinea is located 4,500 kilometres north-west of New Zealand, encompassing the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and some 600 associated islands. Its estimated population of 6.2 million is linguistically the most diverse in the world, speaking over 850 languages - over one-tenth of the world’s total.

Papua New Guinea is an ecologically lush tropical country fringed by rich coral reefs and mangroves, with over 70 per cent of its land territory cloaked in dense tropical rainforest containing thousands of endemic species. Its dramatic mountainous landscape means that many communities are isolated and remote, and may be many days walk from medical attention.

The country is endowed with a wealth of natural resources, including minerals, oil, gas, timber and fish.

Yet this natural resource wealth has not been distributed equally in the country. Papua New Guinea is ranked on a par with Tanzania, Yemen and Angola as 153rd out of 187 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index (2011), lower than any other country in the Pacific.

Papua New Guinea also suffers the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the Pacific, has a high prevalence of diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria, and a growing HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The government spends just 2.6 per cent of gross domestic product on healthcare (cf. NZ at 9.7 per cent of gross domestic product). This severely limits the funding available to provide eye care services for the population or to train eye care providers. Rural health posts and even urban hospitals are seriously under-resourced in terms of equipment, staff and drugs.

The prevalence of blindness and low vision in Papua New Guinea is high. The Foundation conducted a survey in 2005 which found that 29.2 per cent of those over 50 were visually impaired and 8.9 per cent blind. Extrapolated to the 2000 population census figures, this equates to an estimated 146,000 people over the age of 50 with visual impairment, of whom 44,000 are blind in both eyes. Refractive error and cataract were the most common causes of vision impairment in the eyes examined in the survey.

Due to low levels of education and literacy, and restricted communication networks, there is widespread lack of understanding about health problems and the benefit of health care and medical treatments. People may not know they have an eye problem, or if they do they are unaware it can be treated.

Simply put, Papua New Guinea needs a well trained eye health workforce.

Achievements: 2014

  • Graduate success; People across PNG are desperately in need of more eye care professionals, so we are excited that due to your support, a further 8 eye nurses graduated from the training program in Madang.
  • Performed 992 sight-restoring surgeries in the eye clinics.

The Fred Hollows Foundation manages the eye clinic at Kimbe General Hospital in Papua New Guinea.

About the Program

Papua New Guinea has the most acute shortage of eye health workers in the Pacific region.

In 2007, in partnership with Divine Word University and Modilon General Hospital, The Foundation launched a comprehensive eye nurse training program in Madang and refurbished the eye clinic at Modilon Hospital. As a result, 54 local eye nurses and ten community health care workers have now been trained.

Despite significant challenges, the Foundation has continued to support improvements to the local training program for ophthalmologists. 

The Foundation's impact in Papua New Guinea:

  • In 2004, The Foundation successfully established a program in the capital Port Moresby which strengthened the eye care service at the main referral hospital and significantly improved training for ophthalmologists.
  • In 2007, in partnership with Divine Word University and Modilon General Hospital, The Foundation launched a comprehensive eye nurse training program in Madang and refurbished the eye clinic at Modilon Hospital. As a result 40 local eye nurses and ten community health workers have now been trained. Despite significant challenges, The Foundation has continued to support improvements to the local training program for ophthalmologists.
  • In West New Britain, The Foundation supported the training of local eye nurses and community health workers, built a brand new eye clinic, and refurbished and equipped five smaller existing clinics.
  • With over 260,000 people living with blindness or low vision caused by refractive error, The Foundation has also established an extremely successful spectacle supply system. As a result, thousands of pairs of spectacles have been dispensed to people suffering from low vision in eight of the country's provinces.

Facts and figures

Eye health
Prevalence of blindness 1%
Number of eye doctors 12
Number of eye doctors needed 66
Number of eye nurses 36
Number of eye nurses needed 247
General health
Population 7,167,000
Urban population 12%
Life expectancy 63
Adult literacy rate 60.6%
Under-5 mortality rate (per 1,000 births) 58
Number of doctors (per 10,000 people) 0.5

Source: World Health Organization: Papua New Guinea

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What we can do

Help keep Fred’s dream alive.

4 out of 5 people who are blind in the developing world don't need to be. Routine treatment costing as little as $25 can restore sight and hope.