Eye care receives a boost with a new mobile clinic in Fiji
The Fred Hollows' Foundation has shipped a mobile eye clinic to Fiji where it will serve rural people over the next five years.
The Fred Hollows' Foundation has shipping a mobile eye clinic to Fiji to serve rural people throughout Fiji over the next five years.
The executive director of the Fred Hollows Foundation, Andrew Bell told Koroi Hawkins it is an exciting time for eye care in Fiji.
ANDREW BELL: The mobile eye clinic is a response to a challenge that faces healthcare anywhere in the world and that is access. So you can build a big tertiary centre in the capital or in one of the big urban centres but the people in the rural areas don't have easy access, mainly due to lack of transport, to access that main tertiary centre. So what do you do? You can either move the people to the tertiary centre, or you take the services to the people. The beauty of eye care is that it's highly transportable. The difficulty with the patients that we treat is they're often elderly and they're usually blind. So we've put all those factors together. A mobile eye clinic is a just a fantastic solution to a problem that has got very few solutions.
KOROI HAWKINS: Who funded it and how much did it cost?
AB: With all the equipment, all the eye care equipment on board it cost NZ$780,000. It was funded entirely by the generosity of the New Zealand public. So different trusts, different families, and then people just giving small donations came on board at different times and gave us the money to get underway. But it was really when the Big Toe Foundation came on board, which is a New Zealand foundation, and gave us close to half the funding we required that we were able to really get underway because we then had the big donation that we required. Since then we've had other donations, one is from the Fiji Water Foundation in Fiji who is providing us with a primary mover so that it can be moved around from place to place, and we're in negotiation with other organisations and companies. And recently Specsavers, our corporate partner, has shown great interest in helping us with the ongoing running costs of the mobile eye clinic so it is really a collaborative effort.
KH: And what's the situation with eye care in Fiji, but also in the Pacific?
AB: Well eye care in any developing country is never a priority. When a government has not got a lot of funding to give to its health system and it's struggling with the huge issues, anything from Malaria and Dengue fever through to childhood diseases, infant mortality and those sorts of challenges, eye care just never ever gets a look in. The work of the Fred Hollow's Foundation is to eliminate avoidable blindness. Four out of five people who are blind in the world don't need to be. We estimate that that's around about 80,000 people in the Pacific. That means that they are functionally blind, they can't look after themselves. That means that they are probably blind in both eyes by cataract and so that's the work that we are doing to eliminate that avoidable blindness surgically.
There's also refractive error which your listeners will understand is when you need a pair of glasses, and about 70% of vision impairment in the world anywhere is just because a person needs a pair of specs. So we're able to give them a pair of cheap, ready-made spectacles that gives them functional sight back. But all of that work doesn't even quite amount to 50% of the work that we do. There are another host of eye diseases, eye conditions, eye injuries that come along that we provide a comprehensive eye care service and so our staff are dealing with those on a daily basis. People come in, maybe just need some antibiotic eye drops, but those are all patients. So we actually talk about patient encounters which is, in any given year our staff will see anywhere between 63-and-65 thousand patients that they encounter during the course of providing services. The big challenge that's coming the way of the whole world, and particularly in the Pacific Islands, is the challenge of diabetes. And diabetes causes an eye condition called diabetic retinopathy which is in the retina of the eye and this is a serious, serious eye condition and so we are strengthening ourselves.
KH: Is it just going to be Fiji for now or will it be to other Pacific Island countries where this system, or this mobile clinic, would be a really great idea?
AB: Yes so clearly your listeners will understand, it's limited by where there's roading that can take it and many of the Pacific Island countries don't have the greatest roading. We also have what we refer to as a back log, which means that because there hasn't been a comprehensive eye care service in the country there's a pent up demand. So we estimate that for at least the next five years the mobile eye clinic will be very busy so we don't anticipate that it will have done its job for the next five years. But for example Samoa has got the roading system that could take a mobile eye clinic, Efate Island in Vanuatu has got a road right around it now so it could take a mobile eye clinic, so it's possible that we would build another if we could find the generous donors to support us in that work. But also the design of it is also ideally suited to being a static clinic. The current one is on its own chassis, it's got pneumatic suspension and it can be towed around. But it might be that you just take the concept, the build that's on the wheels, and put it down in a place. Like a big shipping container if you can imagine that, and so there are some other concepts as well that now that we've developed the intellectual property we want to work with and see if has other sorts of applications.
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