Mobile teams of eye specialists offer hope to Pacific patients

Eye care specialists in the Pacific have set up mobile teams of ophthalmologists in order to reach the most isolated, vulnerable patients.

Many have been blind for months before they seek help. 

Fijian Latileta Ranadi was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes three years ago. Shortly after, her leg was amputated, but it's her vision she worries about most. 

She says she has been unable to see since last year. But all that's changed now and she can see her children once again. 

"I'm very happy. They came to Nadi so that we can come for the operation on our eyes so that we can see," she says.  

The team she visited are experts who do eye checks under the shade of a tarpaulin, and, for more complex procedures, a mobile clinic.

"With the remote villages what happens is the people have food but they don't have money. They don't have $2 for the bus fare to come to the hospital," says Dr Harris Ansari, Mobile Eye Clinic lead ophthalmologist.

As many have a fear of hospitals, the clinic provides a more relaxed setting. It's only about 15 meters long but has enough space for laser treatment, a waiting room and even a surgical theatre - a specialist unit made possible by donations from Kiwis. 

The need is great, and it's no longer just the adult population with sight complications from diabetes.

"Clinicians tell me that sometimes they're seeing teenagers with diabetes. This is a disease that's now affecting the working population of the islands," says Andrew Bell, Fred Hollows Foundation NZ executive director.

The Fred Hollows Pacific Eye Institute in Suva is the headquarters for eye care in the Pacific. It's not only a treatment centre, but a training ground for people like Kasso Johnson, a trainee ophthalmologist who's originally from Vanuatu.

"They don't only support the eye care, but they look into training human resource and they have done that for doctors... They have done that for nurses," she says.

But making sure communities understand the risks remains the big challenge.

"Most of the patients are presenting very late, mainly because they are aware that diabetes can cause vision loss or blindness," says Dr Biu Sikivou, Pacific Eye Institute director.

If you would like to help the Fred Hollows Foundation NZ and the work it's doing throughout the Pacific, you can visit