Eye clinics just scratching the surface in Pacific

3:34 pm on 5 November 2015

The only eye doctor in Kiribati says if the country is to treat high numbers of people affected by cataracts itself, it needs more equipment.

Rabebe Tekeraoi graduated from Fiji's Pacific Eye Institute last year, and is now the first and only permanent eye doctor in Kiribati.

Alongside two eye nurses, Dr Tekeraoi is developing an eye care system for the people of Kiribati, which includes setting up a clinic in the main atoll of Tarawa.

She says she has started doing some minor procedures at the clinic, but needs more equipment.

"The clinic is quite really empty to start off with. But we try to slowly fill it up with equipment expected for diabetes eye care, other equipment for cataract surgeries. And we have about 90 percent avoidable (blindness), which is cataract and refractive errors."

In the past, people in Kiribati have relied on teams of ophthalmologists visiting from other countries for eye care.

Diabetic eye diseases on the rise

Biu Sikivou

Biu Sikivou Photo: RNZI / Mary Baines

The director of the Pacific Eye Institute in Fiji says the growing numbers of people affected by diabetic eye disease across the region is concerning.

Biu Sikivou and other female eye health professionals from across the Pacific have been in New Zealand with the Fred Hollows Foundation.

Dr Sikivou says cataracts, which can usually be fixed with a 20 minute surgery and cost as little as US$15 dollars, are the main cause of blindness in the region.

But she says there is a growing need for eye doctors and nurses to be trained on how to treat diabetic eye diseases.

"The prevalence of diabetes in the Pacific is just beyond our imagination right now, yeah. It is reaching epidemic proportions. So we are training nurses and technicians to be able to screen for diabetic retinopathy in the community and also we are training our doctors to be able to deliver the services that is needed for those that need treatment."

Nola Pikacha

Nola Pikacha Photo: RNZI / Mary Baines

The first female ophthalmologist in Solomon Islands says a new eye clinic there has allowed for 300 percent more patients to be treated every day.

Nola Pikacha is one of three ophthalmologists at the Regional Eye Centre in Honiara, which opened in July.

Dr Pikacha says they can treat 150 people a day, up from about 50 on a busy day at the old clinic.

"We have surgical services, mostly cataracts, outpatient services, refractive services and diabetic eye screening and treatment. Since we have moved into the new clinic we have increased our patient load by about 300 percent from what we're used to."

The US$3.2 million facility was funded by New Zealand's aid programme.