Blindness and poor vision have a serious impact on individual lives in PNG, leaving a lasting effect on the economy of communities and the country, leading to loss of productivity, greater unemployment and increased health care costs.
Figures show vision impairment for people 50 years and older is 29.2%, with the major causes being the need for spectacles (45.7%) and cataract (35.2%). Furthermore, there are currently only 14 ophthalmologists in PNG, whereas 72 is the figure suggested by the World Health Organization guidelines.
The urgent need for eye care in PNG is the focus of the ongoing initiative between PNG Eye Care, Brien Holden Vision Institute and the PNG and Australian governments to develop sustainable systems providing increased access to eye care for all local people. This collaborative relationship began in 2008 and has already achieved increased outcomes in eye care for tens of thousands of Papua New Guineans.
Samuel Koim, Senior Manager, PNG Eye Care spoke about the new centre. “Too often we see a devastating and, sadly, unnecessary toll on communities and individuals alike which could have been prevented with access to eye care. We must continue to work together to address and increase delivery and awareness within PNG. We are very grateful to Lions for their investment in the Lions National Resource Centre for Eye Health.”
Amanda Davis, Chief Operating Officer, Public Health, Brien Holden Vision Institute is attending the launch. “The Lions National Resource Centre will significantly lift the profile of eye care in PNG and that of the Medical School at the University of Papua New Guinea; encourage and invigorate the training and practice of refraction and ophthalmology plus provide a great model for public-private funding partnerships,” she said.
During 2014 Lions Clubs Australia approached Vision 2020 Australia for ideas to develop a funding proposal for PNG. Led by Vision 2020 member, Brien Holden Vision Institute, extensive consultations were held with all stakeholders, including the members of the National Prevention of Blindness Committee, UPNG, the Department Of Health and local ophthalmologists.
As a result, it was decided that the best way to support eye health in PNG, was to develop a National Resource Centre for Eye Health (NRC) at UPNG. The NRC will operate to centrally coordinate:
• Coordination of eye care services and health promotion activities to increase awareness in PNG
• Central hub for distribution of low cost spectacles and low vision devices within PNG
• Education and training of eye care personnel including nurses, ophthalmologists and spectacle technicians
• Capacity development of the National Prevention of Blindness Committee supporting national advocacy
In coordination with this project, CBM PNG, a member of the National Prevention of Blindness Committee, has been working with UPNG to develop and fund a position for an ophthalmology lecturer at UPNG. This development will further add to the strength of the project and to the profile of eye health in PNG.
Thank you to the key stakeholders for making this project a reality, including Vision 2020 Australia, Brien Holden Vision Institute, CBM, National Prevention of Blindness Committee, UPNG and the Department of Health. Special thanks to Lions PNG and Australia for supporting the project application and for securing funding through Lions Clubs International Foundation.