Foresight to help the people of Sumba

Q and A with Dr Mark Ellis AM

Dr Ellis during one of his last visit to Sumba

What is the aim of the Sumba Eye Program?

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.