Vanuatu | The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ


Ten years ago, Vanuatu had no eye doctor and just one part-time eye nurse. Today, the beautiful island nation is one of The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ’s success stories.

In August 2014, TV3's 3rd Degree programme joined us on outreach to Vanuatu with musician Tiki Taane. Watch the story here.

You can also see a photo gallery from the outreach in Luganville, Santo here.


Vanuatu is the fourth most populous country in the Pacific Island region and has experienced rapid population growth and urbanisation. The population is spread over 75 inhabited islands, and there is a huge backlog of people who are needlessly blind, whom eye health workers are still trying to reach.

Prior to 2001, Vanuatu had one eye clinic located in Santo, furbished with donated equipment from visiting teams and staffed by one local part-time nurse. Cataract surgery was performed by visiting teams, but no documentation was recorded and the success of the surgeries is unknown.

With support from The Fred Hollows Foundation, a national eye care program was launched in Vanuatu in 2001. After five years of the program, The Foundation conducted a review and found that 11 nurses and one Ni-Vanuatu eye doctor were trained and had returned to work in Vanuatu, two surgical centres had been established, and four provincial hospitals were now running primary eye care clinics.

Since 2006, The Foundation has supported regular visits to support the workforce trained at the Pacific Eye Institute and to perform much needed surgeries in remote areas. We now have one trained eye doctor (with a Diploma in Opthalmology) and six eye nurses working on the ground, with two more eye nurses in training.

Achievements 2014 

  • Held 4 surgical outreaches. 
  • Performed 398 sight-restoring surgeries. 
  • 23 diabetes laser sessions. 
  • Four surgical outreaches. 

About our program

The Fred Hollows Foundation's activities in Vanuatu aim to support the current workforce by regularly visiting local eye health workers, strengthening eye health services associated with teaching, and finding and encouraging local people to advocate and lead in the field of eye health. We currently have one eye doctor who graduated from the Pacific Eye Institute with a Diploma of Ophthalmology, Dr Johnson Kasso.

Basil Atip graduated from the Pacific Eye Institute at the end of 2009 and is the sole eye nurse on the island of Malekua, where he provides vital eye care services at Norsup hospital. In preparation for visits from the surgical outreach teams, he travels door-to-door finding patients in need of sight-restoring surgery. Every day he faces huge challenges: the hospital where he works is under-resourced, it can take hours to travel to remote communities on pot-holed gravel roads, fuel is incredibly expensive, and his car repeatedly breaks down.

“Sometimes it is so hard I want to give up, but then I see someone get their sight back and it’s all worthwhile. I’ll always be an eye nurse. My training at the Pacific Eye Institute was so good and made me such a good nurse. I am so lucky to have had the training.”

Blindness prevention is also very important, and priority has been given in the Vanuatu national eye health plan to extend community education and primary eyeEye nurse, Basil, assesses Adam prior to his trip to receive cataract surgery. care services throughout the country, including increasing eye surgery services to another two hospitals and setting up eye nurse-led facilities in each region. The Foundation also plans to train two more eye nurses in diabetes eye care, as part of the diabetes eye screening program that Vanuatu intends to set up.

Over the last ten years:

  • One eye doctor (Diploma of Ophthalmology) and ten eye nurses were trained.
  • More than 32,000 patients were assessed and treated.
  • Two stand-alone eye clinics with operating theatres were set up in Port Vila and Loganville.
  • Four provincial hospitals were equipped with their own eye care clinics.

Facts and figures

Eye health
Prevalence of blindness 0.8%
Number of eye doctors 0
Number of eye doctors needed by 2020 3
Number of eye nurses 7
Number of eye nurses needed by 2020 13
Number of diabetes eye nurses 0
Number of diabetes eye nurses needed by 2020 4
Reasons for low cataract surgical rates and backlog Access (82 different islands and scattered population), language (3 main languages and 80 indigenous languages), lack of resources
General health
Population 247,000
Urban population 25%
Life expectancy 72.5 years
Adult literacy rate 83.2%
Under-5 mortality rate (per 1,000 births) 18
Number of doctors (per 1,000 people) 1.2

Source: World Health Organization: Vanuatu, International Human Development Indicators: Vanuatu, UNDP.
NB: Number of eye nurses includes those trained by The Foundation currently working as eye nurses. Number of eye doctors includes all doctors with an MMed qualification.

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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.