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Waikato doctor takes up key Fiji role for eye care charity

Waikato doctor takes up key Fiji role for leading eye care charity

21 July 2014

The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ today announces the appointment of a prominent Kiwi eye doctor to a key leadership role in the Pacific. Dr Jim Stewart from Hamilton will begin work as the Director of the Pacific Eye Institute in Fiji in early September. He will oversee The Foundation’s international training facility in Suva.

The Waikato ophthalmologist leaves behind his successful private practice to realise his long-term dream of working again in the developing world.

“I’ve been keeping my ears open for something that was a bit more than just going up for a week and doing a lot of cataract surgery,” says Dr Stewart. “This role has something more, a longer-term contribution.”

He’s hopeful that previous overseas experiences in Jerusalem have prepared him for work in the developing world.

“Issues I’m aware of that are real echoes of my time in Jerusalem are the challenges of maintaining adequate supplies of drugs, the disposable items we need to do surgery and keeping operating theatres sterile,” he says. “Those are the challenges of the developing world, but I think there are some really top-rate people who are conscientious and concerned.”

Dr Stewart is building on a well-established culture at The Foundation’s Institute, which has over 30,000 visits from patients each year. Since 2007, The Foundation has trained over 108 eye doctors and nurses at the facility. These graduates are now working for their own governments in over 13 countries across the Pacific region.

Andrew Bell, Executive Director for The Foundation, notes Dr Stewart has the right mix of surgical expertise and commitment to training young doctors.

“His skills as an ophthalmologist will enhance The Foundation’s ability to help more people see again in the Pacific,” Bell says. “He’s also an experienced educator and mentor for registrars. That will help build the culture of knowledge sharing and training local eye health professionals.”

Dr Stewart moves to Suva next month and says the response from his patients has been heart-warming.

“The thing that has really struck me has been the tremendous encouragement I’ve had from virtually every patient who’s been aware of it,” Dr Stewart says. “Every consultation has been people telling me how highly they regard The Foundation and how pleased they are that I’m making this change.”

Originally from Auckland, Dr Stewart studied medicine in Dunedin, the UK and the US before specialising in glaucoma and putting down roots in the Waikato.

He’s cautious about any preconceived ideas he may bring to the role and has ruled out the possibility of an increased role for New Zealand doctors at the Institute. Dr Stewart emphasises the importance of training locals as a key motivation for himself and The Foundation.

“The whole point of the Institute is the training of Pacific doctors,” he says.

The Foundation is committed to realising Fred Hollow's vision of a world free from avoidable blindness. Training local doctors and nurses to reach that goal is central to The Foundation’s work.

About The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ
The Fred Hollows Foundation carries on the work of a legendary New Zealander, the late Professor Fred Hollows. Fred was an internationally acclaimed eye surgeon and social justice activist who championed the right of all people to high quality and affordable eye care. The Fred Hollows Foundation shares Fred’s vision of a world where no one is needlessly blind, and works to end avoidable blindness in 30 developing countries across Asia, Africa and the Pacific. In the last five years alone, The Foundation has performed nearly one million sight-restoring operations and treatments, and trained more than 38,000 local eye health specialists.

The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ works in the Pacific Islands, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste where 4 out of 5 people who are blind don’t need to be; their condition is preventable or treatable. We restore sight to the needlessly blind and train local eye health specialists to provide eye care services in their own communities. hollows.org.nz

ENDS

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