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Hollows' Pacific Work Boosted By NZAID

11 June 2003

Hollows' Pacific work boosted by NZAID

Blindness prevention in the Pacific has received a significant boost with a New Zealand Agency for International Development (NZAID) grant to support The Fred Hollows Foundation (NZ) five-year Pacific eye health programme.

The NZAID grant enables The Foundation to work with Ministries of Health around the Pacific to promote the need for improved eye care in their countries. In the first stage of the grant, The Foundation is working with policy makers and eye care health professionals in Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and the Cook Islands, to help develop national eye care plans. These plans will outline the training and equipment needs for improved eye care that will start to be delivered in the second stage of the programme. The plans will also be incorporated into each country’s national health strategies.

“This supports our Pacific work financially, and even more importantly it enables The Fred Hollows Foundation to encourage health policy makers to prioritise eye care services,” said The Foundation’s NZ country manager, Carmel Williams. “NZAID support provides much needed funding, as well as credibility for The Fred Hollows Foundation as a development agency. It enables The Foundation to work effectively as an official advocate for blindness prevention in the Pacific.”

The Pacific countries included in this regional programme are all severely curtailed in their eye care services. They have insufficient staff, with Samoa and Tonga having only one eye doctor each and Cook Islands has none, very few trained eye care nurses, inadequate equipment, and populations which cannot readily access the limited number of eye clinics.

“As a result of these obstacles to eye care, there is a high level of blindness in the Pacific and it is getting worse every year. Blindness has a significant economic impact in any country. However, the good news is that the cost of preventing blindness in the Pacific and everywhere else is far less than the actual ongoing cost of blindness in the community,” said Carmel Williams.

A recent report in the 'American Journal of Ophthalmology' addresses the increasing burden of treatable blindness. Professor Allen Foster of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Professor Kevin D Frick of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, US, warn that global blindness is set to increase over the next 20 years, from 44 million affected individuals to 76 million. They calculate that US$102 billion can be saved, and 100 million people prevented from going blind, over the next 20 years through the successful implementation of blindness prevention programmes.

“We are still urgently calling on the New Zealand public to continue to support our Pacific work. While NZAID funds provide a welcome baseline funding level to the programme, the equipment and training needs still demand a level of financial commitment beyond that provided by the grant,” said Carmel Williams.

The diseases most commonly resulting in blindness in the Pacific include cataracts, diabetes, injuries and the need for reading glasses. Diabetes is a growing epidemic in the Pacific, which not only increases the prevalence of cataracts in a community, but also leads to blindness unless laser treatment is regularly accessed.

The Fred Hollows Foundation has been working in blindness prevention for over 10 years in 29 countries and began its Pacific and PNG work in 2000. It has a vision of a world where no one is needlessly blind.

ENDS

For further information please call Carmel Williams on 623 7569 or 021 708 396.


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