Pacific eye health in focus at regional meeting in Fiji

Australian and Pacific eye health and vision care experts and organisations will come together over three days this week to discuss the state of eye health in the Pacific.

The Pacific Planning and Reflections Workshop organised by the Vision 2020 Australia Global Consortium and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) will be held in Suva from 5 – 7 November to address issues facing the region.

IAPB Pacific Co-Chair Dr Mundi Qalo says Pacific eye health is impacted by a lack of resources and infrastructure, and health policy still has a number of issues that need to be worked out.

“A shortage of medical personnel, particularly ophthalmologists, is holding back regional efforts to scale-up services and reduce surgical backlogs,” Mr Qalo says.

“The lack of available resources is hindering efforts to address issues like uncorrected refractive error, prevention and management of diabetic retinopathy, development and adherence to quality standards for surgery and training, and monitoring and evaluation standards,” he said.

“The Pacific region’s population of close to eight million people is scattered across remote islands from Papua New Guinea to the Cook Islands making access to health services difficult.”

About 80,000 Pacific people are blind and up to 250,000 suffer significant vision loss. For countries with small, dispersed populations, such as those in the Pacific, the World Health Organisation recommends that regional training centres are appropriate facilities to meet training needs.

Fiji’s Pacific Eye Institute has been working to address some of the region’s personnel shortages and service delivery issues by training ophthalmic doctors, nurses and mid-level personnel.

Vision 2020 Australia CEO, Jennifer Gersbeck, said the Pacific Planning and Reflection Workshop in Suva will be an opportunity to bring together experts and organisations from across the region to reflect on the past year and plan for the future.

“The workshop will focus on issues that are relevant to participants and will create greater partner and in-country staff participation,” Ms Gersbeck said.

“We are thrilled to be able to hold the workshop in Fiji as it will bring focus to the immediate regional context which will undoubtedly enrich workshop discussions,” she said.

At the workshop participants will discuss eye health projects taking place in the Pacific. Among the topics tabled for discussion will be the elimination of trachoma in the region; spectacle supply in Papua New Guinea; infrastructure development in the Solomon Islands; capacity building and the Pacific Eye Institute in Fiji; and collaboration and partnership between NGOs and government in Samoa.