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Papua New Guinea Has More Than 44,000 Blind People--Survey

Editor's Note: This item is provided by the Fred Hollows Foundation, New Zealand (NZ), October 12, 2005, and is reprinted from:

An estimated 44,000 people over the age of 50 are blind in PNG (Papua New Guinea), and a further 146,000 people suffer very poor vision. These are the findings of a large three-month survey conducted by the Fred Hollows Foundation (NZ) in Papua New Guinea.

The Foundation has released these results on World Sight Day, Thursday, October 13, 2005, to highlight the problem of avoidable blindness in the Pacific region.

"Many of these people who are blind could have their vision returned by undergoing cataract surgery. Of the 44,000 people who are blind, 32,000 are suffering from cataracts, a clouding of the lens of the eye. In a cataract operation, the cloudy lens is removed and replaced by a plastic one, which returns normal vision to the patient. The procedure takes less than 30 minutes," said Dr. Jambi Garap, the Medical Advisor of the Foundation's program in PNG.

Of the 146,000 people with vision impairment, nearly half need spectacles, which would return good vision to them. However, having access to providers of spectacles is difficult for many people living in the rural and remote parts of PNG.

"The Fred Hollows Foundation's PNG programme is addressing all these issues," said Carmel Williams, Executive Director of the Foundation. "We are training people to provide cataract surgery and vision testing services, as well as making sure there are distribution systems so that glasses and services get to the people. However, PNG is a difficult and complex country, with a seriously under-funded health system, poor transport services and high levels of insecurity. Our programme has made a multi-year commitment as it takes a long time to change services and train people under these circumstances. On the positive side, we are seeing big improvements after the 18 months we have been working here, with more people having cataract surgery and many more spectacles being dispensed," said Ms. Williams.

The survey tested the vision of nearly 1200 people and was carried out by the Fred Hollows Foundation (NZ) with part funding from the New Zealand Agency for International Development. It took three months to complete.

Similar levels of vision impairment and blindness have been found in surveys conducted elsewhere in the Pacific by the Foundation.

World Sight Day is the leading annual event for Vision 2020: The Right to Sight, which aims to focus the attention on the problem of global blindness. There are 45 million blind people and a further 135 million people with serious visual impairment in the world today. If urgent action is not taken, these numbers will double over the next 20 years. This is unacceptable both in humanitarian and socio-economic terms. Cost-effective interventions are available for all major blinding conditions.

Worldwide the resources available are insufficient to tackle the problem, particularly in developing countries where nine out of ten of the world's blind live. There is a lack of trained eye personnel, medicines, ophthalmic equipment, eye care facilities and patient referral systems.

The Fred Hollows Foundation (NZ) is addressing all these aspects of developing eye care in PNG and other parts of the region, including Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, and is committed to the training of eye care personnel as the only long-term solution to regional blindness. The Foundation is currently raising funds to open a regional Eye Institute in Honiara in the Solomon Islands in 2006, which will train local eye surgeons and nurses from around the Pacific.

Vision 2020: The Right to Sight is a global initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), with a coalition of international non-governmental organizations, including the Fred Hollows Foundation.

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