After the first year working with Indigenous Australians in the Murrumbidgee Local Health District in Griffith (NSW), the team provided the very first training session on vision screening for the local Aboriginal nurses and support staff. The training also included an ophthalmic equipment kit to help them to provide their outreach services. Continuous training not only empowers the local staff but increases their ability to undertake local cataract blindness procedures in the future.
As a result of this training, the current nursing staff are now capable to go out into the communities and screen patients and determine what follow up action is necessary. This will also mean more access to eye care services to more remote and underserved Aboriginal communities around the district. Unfortunately, 35 % of Indigenous adults have never had an eye exam so including vision screening in the current outreach programs will help lower this alarming statistic.
There is still much needed assistance to reduce the waiting list reduction for cataract surgery. This reflects the horrible statistics showing that 1 out of 3 indigenous people go blind. Regular surgical and consulting visits by our volunteering doctors and nursing team, will be necessary to reduce the rate of blindness.
Those visits will also provide training opportunities for other registrars,medical students and together with the nursing staff, with a special priority in surgical skills and theatre efficiency.
That is why this year, we will be relying more on your support so that together we will be able to implement these activities as soon as possible.
Although there are still some limitations caused by the pandemic, Dr Mark Ellis AM and the team are planning to go to Sumba early in 2023. In the meantime, Dr Ellis has been busy organising some ongoing training session via ZOOM in conjunction with the University of Hasunuddin (UNHAS) Makassar ophthalmologists to upskill the local Sumba Foundation doctors and the Sumba Eye Program sponsored Eye Care Nurses (ECNs) in Sumba, East Indonesia.
Since COVID has prevented face-to-face teaching, the online training sessions will be aiming to provide some education and instruction in basic eye care for the nurses to be able to provide spectacles corrections. Local doctors also will benefit from the training giving them the opportunity to communicate with our team of doctors to discuss some of the difficult cases that they have currently. The long-term goal is to have at least a monthly teaching session involving all members in mutual education. Mr Peter Lewis OAM and Mr Peter Stewart OAM, both directors of the program and Optometrists have provided in country training to the nurses and have been the conduit for obtaining spectacles either here in Australia or better through local Indonesian companies.
Dr Ellis hopes to raise enough funds this year so that the Sumba Eye Program can be involved with eye care delivery physically on the Island. With your generous support, the team is hoping to
continue with: • Ongoing training and upgrading skills for more local doctors and nurses • Continuing the trips to Sumba with village screening and surgical visits in collaboration with the PERDAMI of South Sulawesi. • to give access to eye care to more places on the Sumba Island by setting up more permanent eye clinics.
Over the past few months, we have been working hard to get our first Indigenous program off the ground. The first step of the project was to focus on enhancing the eye-care available to the people of the Griffith (NSW) district by providing a sustainable high quality, comprehensive eye-care service, at no cost to those in need, based at Griffith Base Hospital (GBH).
The great news is that we have already seen some good results thanks to the provision of high quality comprehensive ophthalmic care to the people of Griffith and the Western Murrumbidgee Local Health District led by Dr Geoffrey Painter AM, and his team.
However, we are planning to expand the project and give access to eye care services to more remote and underserved Aboriginal communities around the district. This will be achieved by including eye care in existing outreach services provided by local Aboriginal Medical services.
Unfortunately, 35 per cent of Indigenous adults have never had an eye exam so including vision screening in the current outreach programs will help lower this alarming statistic. Most importantly, this will include provision of up-skill training and support to Aboriginal health staff. In addition, there is still much needed assistance with waiting list reduction for cataract surgery. Unfortunately, this reflects the horrible statistics showing that 1 out of 3 indigenous people go blind.
Regular surgical and consulting visits by our volunteering doctors and nursing team, will be much needed to reduce the rate of blindness. Those visits will also provide training opportunities for other registrars, residents and GBH medical students, with a special priority in surgical skills and theatre efficiency. That is why this year, we will be relying more on your support so that together we will be able to implement these activities as soon as possible.
The aim of our program, which began in 2008 was originally to provide eye care for the island of Sumba. We began as a service with eye testing, screening and prescribing by our optometrists, while the team of ophthalmologists and ophthalmic nurses provided eye surgery, mainly small incision manual cataract surgery in eye visits once a year. Our program then progressed to training of local nurses in eye care (ECNs) which is still ongoing today and to achieve collaboration with local Indonesian ophthalmologists.
What are some of the achievements of the Sumba Eye Program?
In the last ten years, there has been a screening clinic with intense training for our eye care nurses (ECN) with the surgical visits to follow at six month intervals. We have now trained four eye care nurses, who are leading eye clinics on the Island as part of their general medical duties. Dr Ellis is regularly providing advice over the internet about cases when the ECNs need assistance, especially during the pandemic period. Mr. Peter Lewis OAM and Mr Peter Stewart OAM, both directors of the program and optometrists have provided in-country training to the nurses and have been the conduit for obtaining spectacles either here in Australia or better through local Indonesian companies. Also, the Western part of the Island of Sumba (Sumba Barat), having no trained optical care presence, means that most people travel to Bali, Kupang or Jakarta for eye care needs. Having our nurses running eye care clinics, the doctors coming from UNHAS Makassar now means that there is some access for locals for quality eyecare.
What are your plans for the future?
Even though from afar, the Sumba Eye Program can be involved with eye care delivery on the Island, once COVID restrictions are lowered, the team wants to continue with the business of: • Ongoing training and upgrading skills of the ECNs • Continuing the trips to Sumba with village screening and surgical visits in collaboration with the PERDAMI South Sulawesi. • Together with the Sumba Foundation and the PERDAMI South Sulawesi Doctors to set up more permanent eye clinics. • To enhance the already good relationship with the ophthalmology department, UNHAS, Makassar, South Sulawesi, Indonesia.
Since 2013, Foresight has been able to restore sight to over 1,000 people, many of them children who have been blind since birth. Due to increasing need to restore sight in the Northern region of Luzon, in the past two years Foresight, in partnership with Open Heart International and the Rotary Club Turramurra have been working on expanding the current project.
This has included extending the screening operations to the surrounding rural areas to reach the most disadvantages and increasing training of local staff. As a result, the team of local nurses that were trained in eye screening through this project have been instrumental in identifying and referring patients to the Santiago City Hospital.
However, knowing that over two million Filipinos nationwide are blind or suffering from poor vision, there are many more people in remote areas that we need to reach. Therefore, the team has been planning to further expanding the current project, but we cannot do this without your generous support.
In February this year, Prof Frank Billson returned to Bangladesh for yet another trip. During his time there, he was honoured to receive a Gold medal for his long-standing contribution to eye health and education for the people of Bangladesh which spanned over more than 40 years. It was after his first visit in Bangladesh that he founded Foresight in 1978 with the goal to prevent and cure blindness and empower communities in the Asia-Pacific region. After just a few years, Foresight helped fund and build the Eye Infirmary in Chittagong.
Frank says the vision of Foresight has been and always will be to empower locals in every country they have worked with, to set up and run eye clinics and continue the work after the Australian medical volunteers leave. “I would insist on teaching local doctors, nurses or paramedics, even when I was operating, I would assist and help them to learn”, says Frank. This then follows some great achievements, for example “we celebrated 1.3 million cataract surgeries in 2002, working across eight hospitals in Bangladesh”.
Today the Eye Infirmary has become a Centre of Excellence in eye surgery, eye care and training, not just for Bangladesh, but for other countries in the region. Circa 1,000 patients a day walk into the hospital every day and 150 Cataract surgeries are performed each day, six days a week. It has also provided medical and paramedical staff training for eight base eye hospitals across Bangladesh.
Frank says that going back to Bangladesh this year and being invited to receive this award was exciting and a great privilege. “I was delighted to see my former students, now senior doctors, as well as meet the current students of the training facility”. The locals were also thrilled to have him back and inspired once again by his teaching as he shared some of his stories and tips to young doctors.
During the trip, Prof Billson realised that Foresight’s work in Bangladesh was not finished. “The future is full of promise but there is still such tremendous need. There are many communities where people are going blind because there is no access to good quality eye care services. Although it is a difficult time for everyone at the moment, our mission of reducing blindness remains our priority”, he says.
Foresight’s Founder, Prof Billson receives a gold medal in Bangladesh
During the 47th anniversary of the Chittagong Eye Infirmary and Training Complex (CEITC) on the 10th February 2020, Prof Frank Billson was awarded a gold medal for his long-standing contribution to eye health and education for the people of Bangladesh. Prof Billson’s commitment to the country spanned over more than 40 years and after his first visit in Bangladesh that he founded Foresight in 1978 with the goal to prevent and cure blindness and empower communities through skills transfer, education and capacity building in the Asia-Pacific region. After just a few years, Foresight helped fund and build the CEITC which has become a Centre of Excellence in surgery, eye care and training, not just for Bangladesh, but for other countries in the region. In 2003 the facility celebrated the landmark of one million sight-saving operations. Today the CEITC sees 1,000 patients a day and performs 150 Cataract surgeries each day, six days per week. It has also provided medical and paramedical staff training for eight base eye hospitals in Bangladesh.
During the last four decades, Prof Billson’s focus has been largely focused on providing training and support for the hospital and provide eye care services for those people leaving in rural areas who generally do not have access to any valuable health assistance.
Going back to Bangladesh this year and being invited to receive this award, it has been a privilege for Prof Billson who was delighted to see his former students as well as meet the current students of the training facility. At the same time, the locals were also thrilled to have him back and inspired once again by his teaching as he shared some of his stories and tips to young doctors.
Further training was provided in
Santiago City for the local nurses and support staff, as well as equipment
supply. Continuous training adds a more sustainable increase in the capacity to
undertake local cataract blindness procedures in the future. The success of the
training was highlighted when in May this year Foresight completed its seventh
tour of duty. The vision screening program meant that the nursing staff were
now capable to go out into the communities and screen patients and determine
what follow up action was necessary. Many screening trips were undertaken, and
a significant number of potentially operable cataract patients were identified
and referred for assessment. Many were operated on by local Ophthalmologists
and in May our team was able to complete 138 surgical procedures during their
This was a sign that there is still a great need to provide eye care service in the outskirt of Santiago City as the people screened cannot afford treatment. Your donations have made and continue to make long term sustainable differences to the lives of no less than 1,000 people and their families.
It has been over 40 years since Professor Billson went to Chittagong and helped build the Eye Infirmary Hospital and the Training Complex. In his many visits, he trained staff and developed the facility which in turn was able to create outreach programs. In 2003 the facility celebrated one million sight-saving operations.
The same facility now sees 1,000 patients a day and performs 150 Cataract surgeries each day, six days per week. We are working on returning to Bangladesh and determine where further support is needed. The Chittagong Eye Infirmary and Training Complex (CEITC) has provided medical and paramedical staff training for eight base eye hospitals in Bangladesh.
Five years old Rona had poor eyesight for a while and had difficulty seeing objects at a distance.
Unfortunately, she and her family lived three hours away from the hospital and could not afford either trip or the 20,000 pesos (about $600) required for surgery. Luckily, her father heard about our medical visits and made sure Rona could be seen by our team. Sadly, Rona, the smallest and youngest patient during that mission, may have retinoblastoma, a life-threatening condition.
After a successful surgery, Rona can now go back to what she likes to do the most, which is “drawing and writing”. She is looking forward to starting school and her future looks much brighter.
Her family were very thankful that they do not need to worry now as Rona will have her sight restored and will be able to live a normal life. As for Rona, she is happy as she can see “clearer”!