27 Jun 2019

Eye care specialists discuss Pacific challenges

1:07 am on 27 June 2019

Eye care specialists from around the Pacific will discuss the various challenges they face at a meeting in Fiji this week.

The biennial Pacific Eye Care Society, or PacEYES, conference opens Thursday in Suva with representatives from Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, the Federated States of Micronesia, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.

PacEYES secretary, Carole Poloso

PacEYES secretary, Carole Poloso Photo: RNZ Pacific / Koro Vaka'uta

Attendees will report on the state of eye care in their respective countries and talk about issues including the connection between eye health and non-communicable disease, barriers to treatment, and traditional methods and medicine.

PacEYES secretary Carole Poloso said the challenges each country faced often varied.

"For example in Kiribati, it's made up of a group of very widely scattered islands, where we have Fiji where the islands are much closer together and they have better transportation," Dr Poloso said.

"Experiences are very different in each of our countries and it's a time where we just share these experiences and the hardships that we encounter and we try to learn and overcome."

PacEYES, with its over 200 members, is also trying to promote the importance of training more eye care specialists in the Pacific, Dr Poloso said

Budding doctors across the region only get about two weeks of ophthalmology training while at medical schools.

Consequently a career in ophthalmology was not always at the forefront of medical students' minds.

But with increasing cases of diabetic retinopathy or diabetic eye disease, as well as the prevalence of cataracts in the Pacific, there is a growing demand for specialists.

Dr Poloso said this could be problematic, however, because ophthalmology was currently not a priority in many of the region's health sectors.

"It comes down to each country's strategic plan and what each country sees as important with regards to human resource. In each of our countries, [ophthalmology] it's still very young."

Dr Poloso said recruiting Ophthalmologists was also a difficult area to address because there were Pacific-wide shortages in many areas of healthcare.