Doctors and Staff at specialist eye care are in involved in outreach programs offering overseas communities high quality eye care and providing a solution for preventable blindness in less fortunate communities overseas.
Charity organizations arrange for eye care teams to go to international locations that require special eye care that cannot be offered locally.
Foresight is one of the charities that A/Prof Geoffrey Painter works with. He is a Director of the organization and leads the Solomon Island program. He is also involved in the “Eyes on China” relief work.
To find out more about the great work done by Foresight, or to support their efforts by making a donation, please visit the Foresight website.
The delivery of high quality, sustainable and regular eye services can sometimes be hindered by an array of practical difficulties to rural and region areas such as a lack of human resources, equipment, and training, but also, and most notably, geographical barriers and cultural differences in healthcare practice. This is especially the case for several communities in regional and remote New South Wales where eye-related conditions can be extremely challenging to address due to the limited availability of eye care providers, the significant distances involved in accessing eyecare and the excessively long waitlists for ophthalmic surgery.
In the attempt to tackle this compelling issue, a team of clinicians from Sydney and Melbourne led by A/Prof Painter from Foresight Australia have recently developed, with the support of Griffith Base Hospital, a comprehensive Ophthalmology Model of Care aimed at improving access to regular and culturally sensitive eye care services for all people residing within the Western Region of the Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD).
Foresight Australia, A/Prof Painter along with talented and committed Australian ophthalmologists have been involved in long-standing Ophthalmic outreach programs dating back to the mid 1990s. These programs have been developed in association with various Non-Government Organisations such as RACS, Eyes on China, Rotary and Open Heart International and provided regular eye care services and specific teaching programs to developing communities in the Solomons Islands, China, and the Philippines.
In 2021, unfortunately these international programs reached a halting point due to the travel restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead of being discouraged by the additional challenges, Foresight Australia, with the support of Gordon Eye Surgery (GES), Rotary and Chatswood Private Hospital (CPH) , approached the NSW Ministry of Health who identified Griffith as an area of need. In partnership with Foresight Australia and the management team at Griffith Base Hospital an innovative model of care centred around three strategic goals was designed.
The first objective was to provide short term assistance to help reduce the waiting list for surgical activity, a goal successfully achieved as the initial waiting times for surgery in early 2022 quickly plummeted from nearly 12 months to just a few weeks.
Secondly, the team behind this model set to deliver long term sustainable Ophthalmic care for the Western MLHD based at the Griffith Base Hospital, including a more streamlined referral, assessment, and follow-up process in close collaboration with Griffith Base Hospital Outpatients staff. This has been possible via the establishment of a fully equipped clinic and regular visits every 4 weeks by a team of clinicians led by Dr Dominic McCall since February 2022. The team consists of 2-3 consultants and an orthoptist from GES. A registrar is provided by CPH and often Residents and Medical Students are also invited to attend, thus getting exposure to regional eyecare. Importantly, the clinic has reduced waiting times for consultations and eliminated to need to travel long distances for routine Ophthalmic care.
Thirdly, an effective and sustainable eyecare outreach programme has been developed for the Aboriginal people in the region. The team has provided equipment, training, and upskilling opportunities for Aboriginal Health Care Workers to enable them to identify eyecare needs in remote communities in the Western MLHD with the ultimate goal to include other local Aboriginal Health care workers in the future.
Since its inception and establishment in February 2022, the Griffith Base Hospital Ophthalmology Model of Care has been extremely productive in improving health outcomes and access to public ophthalmology services in the Western MLHD. In recognition of these achievements, the team behind the project has recently been awarded an Excellence award in the “Keeping People Healthy” category at the 2023 MLHD Excellence Awards.
The Griffith Base Hospital Ophthalmology Model of Care is the perfect example of what happens when dedicated clinicians and external stakeholders join forces to improve the quality of life and reduce the risk of adverse eye health outcomes in regional and Indigenous communities whose access to appropriate and timely healthcare may be limited. It could even be a successful model of care, outreach and teaching in other areas of New South Wales and Australia.
Outreach programs of this calibre are difficult to implement, as there are a multitude of hurdles to overcome but as A/Professor Painter remarks:
“It is exactly in these circumstances that taking action is absolutely critical. It is beyond doubt that effective advocacy requires persistence, commitment, and patience.”
However, when a true commitment to promoting health and wellbeing leads the way, advocacy becomes a powerful tool that can change the life of many for the better.