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Free eye care puts Fijians in better focus

Karuna was terrified of going blind but she did not have anyone to turn to for help. As a widow and the sole support for her daughter and grandchild, she worked hard as a seamstress in the Ba region of Fiji.

She had a loyal following of local and international clients and her sewing machine hummed with activity next to the shrine to Lord Krishna in her home workshop.

But as her cataracts grew worse, Karunas vision deteriorated until the world was a blur. She could not work and hence support her family.

Dust gathered on the bolts of fabric and clients requests went unanswered.

“We were very worried about the future. I could not see the needle or the thread. I could not earn a living. I could not even see my grandson.

Karuna was one of dozens of patients who came to a surgical outreach by The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ.

Specially trained Fijian eye nurses checked her eyes and told her that the cataracts could be removed in a 20-minute surgery. That afternoon, eye doctors from The Foundation removed Karuna’s cataract and restored her sight. She returned home, dusted off the sewing machine and set to work doing what she loves.

“I am grateful to the doctors and nurses who helped me see again. It has given me my life back,” Karuna said.

Noble goal

The Foundation helps thousands of people like Karuna see again each year. They carry on the work of Kiwi Professor Fred Hollows who dreamed of eliminating avoidable blindness.

To reach this goal, The Foundation trains eye doctors and nurses at the Pacific Eye Institute in Suva.

Part of CWM Hospital, the facility is the base for training and a variety of eye care services to the people of Fiji and the Pacific.

Executive Director Andrew Bell said that there was a need to build a facility to focus all efforts on eye care.

“The Pacific Eye Institute offers scholarships to bright young doctors and nurses from across the Pacific. During their time there and afterwards, they go back to their home countries and provide much needed eye care to people who are needlessly blind,” he said.

Specialist training

Since 2006, the Institute has trained more than 100 eye-health professionals from over a dozen countries. While the organisation has a broad view of helping people from Kiribati to Timor-Leste, the charity has strong ties in Fiji and provides an essential service to the Fijian people.

An international team is led by Fijian doctors and administrators who run the Pacific Eye Institute with in-depth local knowledge.

Laser treatment

In addition to cataract surgery, spectacles and general eye care, the Suva Institute offers laser treatment for patients suffering with diabetes-related vision loss.

“A majority of our patients are Indo-Fijian,” Acting Director of the Institute Dr Biu Sikivou said.

“From diabetic retinopathy to cataract surgery, we are here to help everyone in Fiji with vision problems..”

Patrick Rose is Communications Manager at The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ. Phone 0800-227229 Email:prose@hollows.org.nz; Website: www.hollows.org.nz

Karun gets her sight restored

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