THERESE Walsh, Peter Kiely and Gill Greer, advisers to the New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs visited the new Regional Eye Centre (REC) on 14 August.
Walsh, Kiely and Greer are members of the International Development Advisory and Selection Panel (IDASP), an independent group that provides advice to the Minister on the New Zealand Aid Programme’s direction, priorities, and approaches to development.
The REC opened on 22nd July in Honiara.
The REC is a result of collaboration by the New Zealand Government, the Solomon Islands Government, and New Zealand NGO The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ.
The REC will have a significant impact on avoidable blindness in the country by providing free eye care to all Solomon Islanders and doubling the number of sight-restoring surgeries able to be performed in country.
It will also expand the services and eye health training for the Pacific region. Run by the Solomon Islands Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS), the Regional Eye Centre is part of the National Referral Hospital and has been open to the public since 27 July 2015.
Dame Therese noted “We are very impressed with the REC which provides Solomon Islands with world leading facilities”.
Globally, four out of five people who are blind don’t need to be; their condition is preventable or treatable.
The new centre will help more Solomon Islanders who are needlessly blind, doubling the number of sight-restoring surgeries able to be performed in its first year.
“We’re thrilled to offer everyone free access to eye checks, and where required, surgery and treatments for a range of eye conditions.
“No matter what your age or background, we’re here to help anyone who is having trouble with their eyesight. Our patients will go on to lead more independent, productive lives, and that’s hugely satisfying”, says National Referral Hospital Head of Eye Department Dr Claude Posala.
The New Zealand Government provided over SBD $22million (NZD $4.1million) with additional funding from the World Diabetes Foundation and the Queen Diamond Jubilee Trust.
The facility is owned by the Solomon Islands Government. Ongoing operational costs will be borne by The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ in cooperation with the Solomon Islands Ministry of Health and Medical Services.
This investment will significantly expand the country and the Pacific eye care capacity, supporting eye care service delivery, outreach, training and research throughout the region.
As well as serving Solomon Islanders, the REC will function as a regional centre where eye care professionals can come to gain further specialist experience and staff can conduct outreach clinics in neighbouring Pacific countries that require eye care support.
The REC will also have a multi-dimensional focus, including services for Non Communicable Diseases and Neglected Tropical Diseases, enabling further integration of diabetic eye care into the National Diabetes Centre.
This integration will help to address the growing health issue of diabetes, a leading cause of blindness among working age adults globally.
The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ’s Executive Director Andrew Bell explains that Solomon Islands is a recognised leader in Pacific eye care and, as such, is paving the way with training and new techniques.
“Already 21 eye nurses and four eye doctors from Solomon Islands have graduated from our Pacific Eye Institute, showing great commitment to building the country’s eye health systems.
“Now, they have a world-class facility in which to share their specialist skills with visiting professionals, spreading valuable knowledge across the Pacific region,” Bell says.
Designed by award-winning New Zealand architect Pete Bossley and built by New Zealand company Timber Construction Solutions, the REC contains rooms for eye surgery, diabetic retinopathy treatments, minor treatment procedures, sterilisation and classroom training.
Some of the centre’s impressive features relate to its self-sufficiency: 95% of the building’s power comes from solar energy. Other aspects enhance its durability – the New Zealand pine used in construction means it is expected to have a 50 year lifespan.
Furthermore, the REC meets approved earthquake resistance standards, natural disaster and fire safety guidelines, and the strict standards required of world class medical facilities.
A 2012 WHO/MHMS survey in the Solomon Islands found 33% of the study population to be diabetic. WHO and MHMS, Health Service Delivery Profile Solomon Islands, 2012
The Fred Hollows Foundation Australia, Diabetic Retinopathy Brief, October 2013