Vital eye surgery services in Fiji to help the entire Pacific region fight unnecessary blindness

Dr. Subash Bhatta works at the Pacific Eye Institute in Suva, Fiji, established by the Fred Hollows Foundation. Photo / Provided

When a person begins to go blind or has been almost so for several years, having even the slightest chance of seeing again changes their life.

“Their behavior changes,” says Dr. Subash Bhatta, ophthalmologist and specialist.

“When people have been blind for a long time, even a small sight can change a whole outlook on life.”

Bhatta works at the Pacific Eye Institute based in Suva, Fiji, which was established by the Fred Hollows Foundation NZ in 2006.

The charity was set up in 1992 by New Zealand-born eye surgeon Professor Fred Hollows and his wife Gabi with the aim of restoring sight to the unnecessarily blind. He died a year later of cancer.

Fred Hollows has dedicated his life to this work and the charity – which has set up several eye clinics in the Pacific region, including in Vanuatu and Samoa – is highly regarded for its work helping locals.

Dr. Subash Bhatta (far right) and staff at the Pacific Eye Institute in Suva, Fiji.  Photo / Provided
Dr. Subash Bhatta (far right) and staff at the Pacific Eye Institute in Suva, Fiji. Photo / Provided

In addition to eye care services, the institute also offers postgraduate training in eye care for doctors and nurses.

Bhatta is passionate about what he does and shares the same mantra Hollows had.

He believes that everyone, regardless of background or socio-economic status, should have access to basic care – including eye care which could very easily help prevent unnecessary blindness.

“When you see so many people like this around you that we could help…with all the resources we have…

“And yet, in so many parts of the world, those people who could have been helped but who could not receive help because of [circumstances] – I’m really sad that maybe more of the worldwide brotherhood can come together to help these patients.

Members of the public pictured at the Pacific Eye Institute in Suva, Fiji.  Photo / Provided
Members of the public pictured at the Pacific Eye Institute in Suva, Fiji. Photo / Provided

“Overall, if you look at resources, we’re not lacking. It’s just not evenly distributed. Some people will have resources and some patients won’t even have basic resources.”

However, an exciting development at the Fiji-based clinic is set to help more people not only locally, but also from other Pacific nations, receive specialist eye care.

New surgical training has just begun for phacoemulsification – modern cataract surgery – and vitrectomy, which is a type of eye surgery that treats various retinal and vitreous problems.

“In Western countries, these surgeries are the norm. But here is the sad reality that many people will lose their sight simply because they cannot afford surgery.

This has been made possible by new Australian-funded equipment and will mean members of the public will have access to complex eye surgeries at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva.

Fiji and Pacific Islanders will be able to access more eye health services at the Pacific Eye Institute in Suva.  Photo / Fred Hollows Foundation
Fiji and Pacific Islanders will be able to access more eye health services at the Pacific Eye Institute in Suva. Photo / Fred Hollows Foundation

Prior to this, people in need of specialist eye care were told they had to travel overseas to New Zealand, Australia or other countries.

“People were also going to India for these treatments,” he said.

“Removal – it’s a very time-consuming process. It has to go through the government and it’s a very expensive service.”

Some surgeries for retinal diseases can cost between $15,000 and $20,000 (NZD).

“When you add to that the cost of transportation, a person accompanying the patient and the logistics and all those things, it’s almost impossible for many patients to even travel to get their treatment.

“I’ve seen many patients here go blind because they couldn’t afford the costs for the services when they were referred. It was really a sad situation.”

Bhatta said cataract problems were the leading cause of preventable blindness worldwide and therefore eye programs tended to focus on cataract surgeries.

Providing better eye health care for the entire Pacific region

But there are many other diseases that can cause blindness, he said, including retinal diseases caused by diabetes.

“Retinal diseases – if you have a problem with your retina and it is not [fixed] in time, you cannot reverse time.

“In Western countries these surgeries are the norm. But here it is the sad reality that many people will lose their sight simply because they cannot afford the surgery because they do not have access to it. .”

Leaving the disease untreated only causes a decrease in vision or, inevitably, a complete loss of vision.

But now they are slowly building a base at the Pacific Eye Institute where they can treat patients and train local doctors who can continue services in the future – in Fiji and the rest of the Pasefika region.

It is expected that the Fiji Ministry of Health and Medical Services will work with neighboring Pacific Island countries so that people from those respective countries can travel to Fiji and be treated rather than going further overseas. for the same service.

Bhatta stressed how vital such development was not only for Fiji but for the entire Pacific region.

“Once they become blind, another person has to be with them continuously. It is a heavy burden for the person, the family, the society and even the country.

“It is very important that we address these issues.”


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