Avoidable Blindness Initiative restoring sight in Timor-Leste

Seventy-four-year old Timorese grandmother, Olinda Guterres, can see again thanks to work undertaken as part of the Australian Government’s Avoidable Blindness Initiative, and implemented by The Fred Hollows Foundation New Zealand.

Mrs Guterres was the first of around 1,000 Timorese who will receive cataract surgery over the next 12 months – undergoing the procedure in a specially equipped shipping container that has been set up as a short term operating theatre.

Mrs Guterres is once again able to assist her family to earn income by making baskets and working in her vegetable garden.

Australia’s Ambassador to Timor-Leste, Peter Heyward, commended The Foundation’s comprehensive approach at the opening of the temporary theatre and noted the Government’s continuing support of the program.

“Over the last five years, The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ has been systematic in addressing all pieces of the puzzle in its quest to eliminate avoidable blindness here in Timor-Leste. The task ahead is huge, however working closely with the Ministry of Health and local partners, The Foundation has helped put the building blocks in place to transform the delivery of eye care over the long-term,” said Mr Heyward.

The Foundation NZ worked in close partnership with the Ministry of Health in 2005 to help develop and implement a national eye health strategy. Since then, it has worked with local partners to deliver training, and develop appropriate, locally implemented community-based services and health promotion. It has just completed the country’s second national eye health survey, which will help refine the planning and delivery of services in Timor-Leste over the next five years.

With more than 10,000 Timorese blind from cataract, The Foundation was not prepared to delay the establishment of a full-time surgical theatre in Timor-Leste.

“We estimate approximately 2,000 people a year are going blind from cataract.  So we decided to go ahead with plans to recruit and train the country’s first surgical services team last year, and worked with the New Zealand Defence Force to find and begin converting a shipping container into a temporary operating theatre.  We hope to restore sight to 1,000 Timorese blind from cataract over the next twelve months,” said The Foundation’s Timor-Leste Country Director Jacqui Ramke.

Additional support from the Australian Government’s Avoidable Blindness Initiative to The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ in Timor-Leste includes:

Running a Diploma of Eye Care to train eye health workers at the National Institute of Health Sciences
Establishing clinical services in Dili
Supporting all eye care workers to continue to develop their clinical skills
Training an additional Timorese eye doctor to work at the new National Eye Centre.

With the support of The Fred Hollows Foundation Australia it is hoped that a new National Eye Centre will be completed in 2011. The Centre will comprise operating theatres and outpatients’ clinics. AusAID and NZAID, as part of the Australian Government’s Avoidable Blindness Initiative will help equip the new eye care facility when it opens.

>Learn more about our Timor-Leste program.
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