National Eye Centre opens in East Timor
Representatives from RANZCO and RACS attended the official opening of East Timor's new National Eye Centre in the country's capital, Dili, in July. The Centre is the new headquarters of the eye program in East Timor.
"The National Eye Centre is an initiative of the Timorese Ministry of Health and the Fred Hollows Foundation New Zealand, supported by AusAID, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and the East Timor Eye Program," (ETEP) says RANZCO Fellow Dr Nitin Verma AM. "RANZCO will have an ongoing role with training, education and continuing professional development."
"These groups have been working towards the opening of this Centre for a while now and it will be the national focus for eye care," says Dr Verma. "The building is now complete and soon the fit-out will be finished and the Centre ready to start operating in a couple of months."
East Timor's first ophthalmologist, Dr Marcellino Correia, will head up the National Eye Centre. The Centre houses an eye clinic, an ophthalmic day surgery and a spectacle-manufacturing unit. "It will also have a training centre with a library, internet access, online resources and videos," says Dr Verma.
The opening of the new Centre was a great day for Dr Verma who, as Founder of the East Timor Eye Program (ETEP), has spent 11 years working with his colleagues to provide eye care for the Timorese people, and training for local eye-health staff.
"This new Centre is the hub for the spokes of the other outreach eye clinics throughout East Timor. The country's eye care will be coordinated from this Centre," says Dr Verma.
As part of in country planning meetings Drs Mark Renehan, Iain Dunlop, Prof Frank Billson and RANZCO CEO Susi Tegen, attended the official opening. Dr Renehan says RANZCO's ongoing involvement with the Centre will focus on training, providing online resources and books, helping with audits and continuing professional development.
"The College has much to offer this exciting new facility," says Dr Renehan. "We are keen to make available online resources such as the ONE Network (an ophthalmic news and education network) and CPD activities for all of the Centre's eye professionals. The College may also help with sub-specialty services if, for example, if the Centre wants to source a corneal surgeon or a retinal surgeon," he says.
Dr Verma says RANZCO and RACS representatives attended the Vision 2020 meeting the day after the Centre's opening, to discuss what is ahead for the next 20 years in terms of eye care in East Timor – and what role the various parties may play.
"East Timor's Minister of Health, Prof Nelson Martins, told us our work in East Timor was not over, as the country wasn't yet ready to completely take over eye-care initiatives itself," says Dr Verma. "We will jointly continue our efforts towards making East Timor self-sufficient in eye-care by 2015 and the eradication of preventable blindness by the year 2025."
Background (provided by ETEP)
East Timor is one of the poorest countries in the world. Decades of civil unrest in the young nation led to an acute shortage of health workers, including appropriately trained eye-health personnel.
Blindness is an economic and social burden for any developing nation. According to a survey conducted by the Timorese Health Ministry, there is an estimated 47,000 Timorese people over the age of 40 living with vision impairment.
The most common eye problems in East Timor are refractive error, cataract, Vitamin A deficiency and trauma - all of which can cause significant visual impairment or blindness. Many of these eye conditions are preventable or treatable.