Timor Leste

Helping to build a sustainable eye health system is at the heart of The Foundation’s work in one of the world’s newest nations, Timor-Leste.


Timor-Leste is one of the poorest countries in the Asia-Pacific, with around half the population living below the poverty line. Decades of civil unrest destroyed important health infrastructure and there is an acute shortage of medical personnel.Eye health professionals conduct eye checks in the capital, Dili. Photo: Hugh Rutherford

The upheaval that followed Timor-Leste’s referendum on independence in 1999 led to a further decline of the country’s health system. Since independence in 2002, the nation has worked hard to restore and improve health services. The Ministry of Health is trying to reduce the immediate burden of disease affecting most of the country’s population, while also building medical infrastructure for the future. However, great challenges persist.

Timor-Leste is a predominantly rural nation. Of its population of about 1.2 million, roughly seven in 10 people live in rural areas and most are engaged in farming. General health services are not widely available, and the eye health situation is a cause for concern. Approximately 13,500 people in the country are blind, and 85 per cent of that blindness is avoidable. About 2,000 people go blind from cataract each year and 40,000 people have poor vision that affects their daily lives.

The country has a major shortage of health professionals, including eye health workers – there is only one Timorese ophthalmologist working in Timor-Leste.

The Foundation’s long-term goal is to provide ongoing support to the government and its local partners, helping them to establish a comprehensive and sustainable national eye health program that addresses the major causes of blindness and low vision.

Achievements 2014

Working together with our partners in 2014 we:

  • Examined the eyes of 21,405 people and performed 2,791 eye operations and treatments including 864 cataract surgeries. We also distributed 5,790 pairs of glasses
  • Helped train and build a small health workforce in eye care, from village health workers to eye care nurses and technicians, and four junior ophthalmology candidates
  • Trained 27 clinic support staff and 122 community health workers
  • Supported 17 people to attend other courses and 18 people to continue their education
  • Launched a database to collect national data on eye health, making it easier for doctors to keep patient records
  • Donated $212,594 worth of essential eye health equipment

About the program

Our program in Timor-Leste is managed by The Fred Hollows Foundation New Zealand, and the focal point is the purpose-built National Eye Centre, which opened in 2012 in the capital, Dili. Funded by the Timor-Leste Ministry of Health, the Australian Government and The Fred Hollows Foundation, the centre is a far cry from the temporary operating theatre housed in a shipping container that preceded it.

Before the new eye centre opened, a temporary operating theatre was housed in a specially fitted out shipping container.The National Eye Centre houses the country’s first comprehensive eye care service, including a dedicated operating theatre and outpatients’ clinic, a refraction clinic, an optical workshop, and offices to manage clinical and other eye health services. The Centre offers treatment to urban Timorese as well as to patients referred from district hospitals and rural clinics. It provides clinical and professional training to local nurses and technicians onsite and in district clinics through outreach. The Centre’s surgical team also conducts regular screening and surgery outreaches at selected district hospitals to reach patients who cannot afford to travel to Dili.

The Foundation is collaborating with the Timor-Leste Ministry of Health, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and local non-government organisation Fo Naroman Timor-Leste to better coordinate eye care services in the country. The endorsement of a National Eye Health Strategy sees The Foundation continuing its work with the Government of Timor-Leste to support training and the provision of eye health services.

Our training, advocacy and health promotion activities all further the goal of Timor-Leste’s National Eye Centre becoming a sustainable and prized asset in the fledgling nation’s health system.

Facts and figures

Eye health
Prevalence of blindness >1%
Number of eye doctors 3
Number of eye doctors needed 12
Number of eye health nurses 12
Number of eye heath nurses required 247
General health General health
Population 1.2 million
Urban population 29%
Life expectancy 62.9 years
Infant mortality rate (per 1,000 births) 46
Population which is under-nourished 45%
Population living on $1.25 a day 37%
Adult literacy rate 58%
Number of doctors (per 10,000 people) 1

Source: UNDP Human Development Report 2013

What we can do

Help keep Fred’s dream alive.

4 out of 5 people who are blind in the developing world don't need to be. Routine treatment costing as little as $25 can restore sight and hope.