New eye unit brings hope in Pakistan

A new eye unit built by The Fred Hollows Foundation is allowing doctors to reach out to more children and adults in one of the world’s most challenging regions, and to treat their eye conditions before it is too late.

The facility is in northern Pakistan and boosts existing services at Hayatabad Medical Complex, a large, busy hospital in the city of Peshawar. The unit’s focus is helping children with serious eye conditions and detecting and treating diabetic retinopathy in adults before the damage becomes irreversible.

“Before, children in the region needed to travel to far-off cities to receive treatment for complicated paediatric eye conditions, but they now can have their operations in Peshawar,” says The Fred Hollows Foundation’s Pakistan Program Co-ordinator, Rashin Choudhry.

“Diabetic retinopathy is a growing problem in Pakistan. In the past, patients would have visited the diabetes unit but never had their eyes screened until they suffered irreversible vision loss. They are now being reached much sooner and offered treatment before it is too late.

"The services are so good we are even seeing patients from Afghanistan coming for treatment."

Childhood blindness and diabetic retinopathy are subspecialties of ophthalmology – which means sophisticated skills, facilities and equipment are needed to treat them.

In Pakistan, there is a shortage of eye health services in many regional areas, and hospitals cater to large populations. Hayatabad Medical Complex serves a catchment of 23 million people across a region not much bigger than Tasmania.

The culturally diverse area includes the surrounding Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa Province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas to the west. Security conditions are tense, but this hasn't prevented the hospital from delivering sight-restoring operations. 

“Over 2 million people in Pakistan are blind, including 120,000 children,” says Choudhry. “For the first time ever, affordable subspecialty eye care, once only available through private clinics in Peshawar, is now accessible to all people in this region.

“And anecdotal evidence suggests awareness of the eye unit and availability of these services is also growing. We expect to see an increase in patient numbers as time goes on.”

The eye unit has been fully constructed by The Fred Hollows Foundation. The Australian Government provided additional support through the Pakistan-Australia Subspecialty Eye Care Project (PASEC) for medical equipment and training for the project.

The eye unit will also provide training opportunities for ophthalmologists and medical graduates.

Learn more about the Pakistan Program.
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