'Celebrate some of the great successes' – Fred Hollows Foundation marks thousands of sight-restoration surgeries in the Pacific over 25 years

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It's not even 9am at the Leulumoega clinic and the seats are already filled.

Patients have come from neighbouring villages for non-communicable disease checkups – in Samoa that means diabetes.

Ophthalmic nurse Aisasiga Taase Mafaufau, who has a tiny room that acts as an eye clinic near the waiting area, knows this means a busy day – every patient with diabetes is sent on to him for an eye checkup.

The charity has been providing life-changing eyesight operations for 25 years, transforming thousands of lives.
Source: 1 NEWS

"The thing we are trying here is to identify them in an early stage because a surgeon can save them from getting blind .. for diabetic retinography if it's presenting in a very late stage we can't do much about that," he says.

Time is of the essence. Diabetes, which can cause blindness, is spiralling out of control in the Pacific with some of the highest rates in the world.

In Samoa, it's estimated nearly a quarter of the population has the disease – many of them undiagnosed.

It's why the Fred Hollows Foundation has moved away from just sending in overseas specialist teams twice a year.

The foundation has had to change the way it works due to the sky rocketing rates of diabetes in the Pacific.
Source: 1 NEWS

In Samoa it's trained five ophthalmic nurses who are based in outreach clinics in rural areas so they can identify at-risk patients sooner rather than later. 

Ophthalmologist Dr Lucilla Ah Ching-Sefo, another local trained by Fred Hollows, say these community clinics are making a vital difference as diabetes patients who go to the main hospital eye clinic often go too late to save their eyesight.

"One of the great barriers of health care is distance and transportation so making this service accessible to the rural community it will make a great difference".

It's a difference funded by donations and the New Zealand Government gives $7.5 million in aid over five years to the Foundation which today celebrates its 25th anniversary.

In the Pacific alone it's done over 50,000 operations since 2001 – restoring the sight of around 3000 people a year

Fred Hollows NZ Executive Director Andrew Bell says while it's time to celebrate the successes, it's also about re-energising for the work that still needs to be done.

He says arming Pacific countries to provide their own eye care services is key.

"It's a huge difference to the old concept of fly in fly out where Australian and New Zealand specialists would go for a week, set up an eye camp and go back home again," he says.

"We now have consistency, you have culturally appropriate care, you have care in the home language".

To help, click here, or call 0800 227229. 

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