Eyeing a brighter future

Hela PHA CEO Dr James Kintwa and Dr Amyna Sultan of PIH being welcomed by the local Hela community.

Hela PHA CEO Dr James Kintwa and Dr Amyna Sultan of PIH being welcomed by the local Hela community.

The future’s looking up for 104 people in Hela Province, thanks to a series of eyesight-saving surgeries.

Organised by the Hela Provincial Health Authority and its partners at the Wabia Health Centre, the initiative saw two highly regarded eye doctors from LAILA foundation and Port Moresby’s Pacific International Hospital (PIH) treat cataracts patients in the province for the best part of a week, with help from two eye theatre nurses and an optometrist.

A cloudy area in the eye’s lens which leads to a decrease in vision, most cataracts develop as part of the ageing process or as a result of prolonged exposure to sunlight. Poor nutrition can also play a part. In 2017, PNG’s first national survey on eye health found exceptionally high rates of vision impairment in the country’s most remote regions, especially amongst older women.

But as Hela PHA CEO, Dr James Kintwa, puts it: “cataracts are a common and serious condition, and also one that’s usually easy to cure if you can get yourself to a specialist.”

“The issue in remote places like Hela, of course, is that this tends to be a big ‘if’. PNG only has about dozen or so eye specialists to service its eight million people, so we were delighted to be part of the effort to help bring the LAILA/PIH team here. And in a few months, we will bring them back.”

“It was so fulfilling to see many happy patients with their vision restored,” says Dr Amyna Sultan, OBE. The director of the not-for-profit LAILA Foundation, which has been carrying out free-of-charge eye surgeries across PNG for a number of years, she reports that “some patients were able to see for the first time in years. They came in holding a guardian’s hand and walked out independently. We’re going to endeavour to keep doing everything we can, to help alleviate cataract blindness in PNG.”

For his part, Dr Kintwa says he that “cannot remember the last time eye specialists were able to visit us in Hela”. While formally welcoming the surgeons, in a ceremony filled with songs, dances and prayers, he described the cataracts program as “essential for 2019 and beyond” and made sure to thank all those who helped make it possible.

“The Oil Search Foundation provided the logistic arrangements to bring the PIH’s high volume cataract surgeon Dr Viveka Jairaj and the LAILA Foundation team into Hela The LAILA Foundation provided the other eye specialists, lens implants, medicine and medical equipment that’s required to complete such delicate work.”

“With such partners in place, we are doing our best to improve Hela’s healthcare in this challenging location.”

Speaking at the official welcome, OSF’s Rodney Ingersoll agreed that “eye programs like this can change lives dramatically. Eye care is such a big issue throughout the Highlands. I’m blessed with good eyes and thankful that I can see your smiling faces, birds, sunsets and my own family – many of our friends cannot. OSF is so proud to assist your loved ones.”

OS FOUNDATION