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Taking Eye Services To The Rural Poor

PRESS RELEASE
11 February 2004

Taking Eye Services To The Rural Poor

The Fred Hollows Foundation (NZ) is launching a fundraising campaign today [eds; 12 February] for its Pacific work. Money raised will be used to help people in remote rural areas gain eye care services.

“It is not enough to support urban services in the Pacific,” said Carmel Williams, Country Manager of The Fred Hollows Foundation (NZ). “We know that even a one hour bus ride is a major barrier to eye care service. People living in rural areas have very little cash, and many time consuming responsibilities, both of which restrict them from travelling away from their villages. It is imperative that services are taken out to the people.”

As part of The Fred Hollows Pacific programme, doctors and nurses are being trained to deliver “outreach services” to rural areas. These services include screening people for eye diseases, especially cataracts and diabetes related problems, and checking for visual disorders. In many places in the Pacific, outreach also involves performing surgery in remote settings.

Dr Biu Sikivou, consultant ophthalmologist at the main hospital in Suva, recently attended a course run by a leader in such services in India. She spent one month studying and working with the Aravind Eye Hospital’s community outreach programme.

“The objective of the course is to improve the level of eye care services provided to the community, and reduce the prevalence of blindness in the rural areas,” said Dr Sikivou.

“While there, we planned the services required in our own area and developed action plans to deliver these services. For Fiji, this involves managing community outreach activities efficiently and convincing people in rural and remote areas that their eyesight can be helped,” she said.

“The course included working with eye camp organisers and conducting eye camp visits. Last year Aravind Eye Hospital conducted over 1500 eye camps, examining more than 450,000 patients and performing nearly 100,000 cataract surgeries. Cataract accounts for about 50 per cent of blindness in Fiji, so this has high relevance in our country as well.”

Dr Sikivou has now returned to Fiji where she is embarking on a programme of extending services to rural areas. These will initially include screening people in villages for cataracts, diabetes and the need for reading glasses. “After calculating the magnitude of blindness here in Fiji, I've realised how much work we have to do. We need to go out and find those cataract and diabetes cases tucked away in the remote villages.”

Carmel Williams said additional funding is required to set up these outreach services in Fiji.
The Fred Hollows Foundation has been working in Fiji for two years in partnership with Vision 2020 Fiji. Together, with the Ministry of Health, the programme has developed a national eye care plan which maps out Fiji’s path towards having its own comprehensive eye care service. The Foundation has NZAID support for some training for eye care nurses and doctors in Fiji and elsewhere in the Pacific, but it relies on the New Zealand public for additional funds for equipment for better services.

“We are now asking New Zealanders to support our Pacific work,” said Carmel Williams. “In Fiji and elsewhere, there is a huge need for improved eye care services. The region is in desperate need of more eye care nurses and doctors, as well as fully equipped clinics.”

Donations to The Fred Hollows Foundation (NZ) can be made on 0800 227 229, or posted to Freepost Hollows, Private Bag 56 908, Auckland 1030.

Picture caption: Fijian patients crowd into rural eye care services because travelling to an urban hospital is too difficult for most people living in villages

NOTES TO EDITOR
- Every five seconds one person in our world goes blind…and a child goes blind every minute.
- There are 45 million blind people and 135 million with low vision, comprising a total of 180 million people with significantly poor vision.
- The Fred Hollows Foundation was launched in September 1992 to continue the sight restoring work of its founder, Professor Fred Hollows.

- The Foundation works towards a world where no one is needlessly blind, striving to provide access to quality eye care to the poorest of the poor living in developing countries.

- The Foundation’s development programmes focus on providing high quality eye care, training programs, community education and the provision of low cost, high quality equipment (such as surgical microscopes, lasers and intraocular lenses)

ENDS

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