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Charity champions universal eye health

Charity champions universal eye health with new Pacific developments

Eye care charity The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ marks World Sight Day on Thursday, 8 October, celebrating the theme of universal eye health with the launch of two ground-breaking infrastructure developments in Solomon Islands and Fiji. The Regional Eye Centre for Solomon Islands and mobile eye clinic for Fiji will drastically reduce avoidable blindness in the Pacific region by providing greater access to eye care for thousands of needlessly blind and vision impaired people.

World Sight Day is an annual awareness day coordinated by the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, of which The Foundation is a member.

Regional Eye Centre, Solomon Islands

The Foundation’s Executive Director Andrew Bell says that the opening of the Regional Eye Centre to the public in Honiara, Solomon Islands last month perfectly encapsulates the spirit of World Sight Day.

“The Regional Eye Centre is providing universal access to eye health as we speak. Its sight-restoring services span the Pacific and its design, and most importantly, its impact, is global,” notes Bell.

“Since the Centre opened, we’ve had a fantastic uptake in Solomon Islanders taking advantage of the free eye care services on offer. We’ve even trained a research fellow and ophthalmologist from The University of Auckland in relevant surgical techniques.”

In addition to its clinical services, the Centre acts as a regional hub where eye care professionals from the Pacific can come to gain specialist expertise. Staff also participate in The Foundation’s Pacific Outreach program with outreach trips to neighbouring countries.

The Centre represents a partnership between the governments of Solomon Islands and New Zealand, with The Foundation. It was designed by award-winning New Zealand architectural firm Bossley Architects and built by New Zealand company Timber Construction Solutions International and local contractors.

Bell adds that the Centre’s sustainable design and construction makes it the most advanced eye care facility in the Pacific.

“This remarkable Centre is self-sufficient, durable, and proof of our commitment to building a better future for our Pacific neighbours. Ninety-four percent of the Centre’s power comes from solar energy, and the building materials are of such high quality that it will last 50 years.”

The New Zealand Government invested over $4million in the facility, with additional funding from the World Diabetes Foundation, the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust and The Foundation’s donors.

Mobile eye clinic, Fiji

While the finishing touches on the Regional Eye Centre were put in place, the Foundation’s mobile eye clinic - the first of its kind in the Pacific - hit the road in Fiji.

“Since May, we’ve been trialling a process where the clinic is rotated across three locations on Viti Levu – Fiji’s largest and most populated island,” says Bell.

“This is the first time anyone has attempted mobile eye care in a Pacific environment and it’s been an interesting challenge for the team. What’s surprised us is how many patients are coming in who simply need a pair of eye glasses. These people have been struggling for years with a problem which can be solved using a straightforward eye test – it’s incredible.”

Bell emphasises that globally, four out of five people who are blind don’t need to be: their condition is preventable or treatable.

“The clinic’s latest findings support our strategy of taking eye care services in to rural settings. We know that there are people in remote communities who desperately need eye care, so we’re taking it to them. This is universal eye health in action.”

Designed and built in Hamilton by transport engineers Action Manufacturing, the clinic is a state-of-the-art 11.5 metre medical facility. It allows for thousands of free eye examinations, surgeries and treatments to be performed each year in addition to the existing services available through The Foundation’s permanent Suva-based Pacific Eye Institute.

Construction and furnishing of the clinic with equipment totalled approximately NZD$750,000, funded by a range of New Zealand donors.


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