Over 80 per cent of Vanuatu’s population live in rural, isolated villages with limited access to basic health and education services. The country has a rapidly growing population spread over 80 islands, making it challenging to access health care services. Cataracts, refractive error, and diabetes eye disease are some of the main causes of avoidable blindness in the country.
In early 2019, the Fred Hollows Foundation NZ opened the new Vanuatu National Eye Centre in Port Vila following a $2.5 million upgrade and expansion of the previous centre. The upgraded eye clinic and increasing eye care workforce have gone a long way to strengthen eye care services in Vanuatu.
Most of the causes of blindness in Vanuatu are preventable or treatable – cataracts, pterygium, or trauma. However, the lack of a full-time ophthalmologist until February 2023, coupled with the challenges of Covid 19, meant that considerable backlogs had built up for each of these conditions.
Fay Moorfield was recruited by VSA as a volunteer for five months from April 2023 as a Clinical Practice Advisor to strengthen the administrative capacity of the centre. At Fay’s arrival, there were 480 cataract patients waiting for surgery, plus 850 diabetic patients who hadn’t had a consultation for several years. The task was to work methodically through these backlogs, phoning patients for reviews.
During Fay’s assignment, over 300 surgeries were carried out, mainly for cataracts, and over 3,500 eye reviews took place. There were over 300 Diabetic Retinopathy consultations, approximately half of these for new patients and 54% of these being for women.
Now, having successfully achieved a zero-patient backlog, patients can be booked in for eye surgery without having to wait a long time from their initial consultation. This is especially important for conditions like diabetes eye disease which, if left untreated, can lead to irreversible vision deterioration and ultimately to complete blindness.
Fay has also ingrained many new administrative processes and procedures and set up systems to improve patient care and patient flow through the clinic. She says, “Working through the post-Covid backlogs has been satisfying – to have completed this task, leaving no backlogs. The Vanuatu National Eye Centre has been a fantastic environment to work in Vanuatu – supportive staff, nice environment, and satisfying work.”