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Vision of Islands

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DO YOU REALIZE THAT THE ISLANDERS OF TUVALU ARE GOING BLIND AT AN ALARMING RATE
MY TEAM ARE ABLE TO PROVIDE APPROPRIATE EYE SURGERY
BUT WE NEED YOUR HELP TO FUND THE COST OF SUPPLIES AND FREIGHT.

My name is Dr John Willoughby. I have been travelling to the Pacific region namely Tonga since 1996 volunteering my time as an eye surgeon under the Pacific Island Project which was originally funded by AUSAID. From 2012 I also started going to Tuvalu. When AUSAID funding ceased in 2014, and up until 2018, I provided at my own cost all necessary hi-tech machines, travel, accommodation and expendables and the rest of the team provided their time and expertise as volunteers in undertaking cataract surgery and eye tests for the local population. You will see in the video, they are a population with extreme eye disease starting as young as age 30. They do not as yet have a qualified Eye Surgeon.
Transporting equipment and supplies each time is a challenge. I have had no support financial or otherwise from the Australian or Pacific Governments. Until now I have been able to fully provide my 6 weeks of time and surgery skills to keep up with numbers. No one had been able to visit the region from 2019 since Covid. A medical team from Taiwan visited the region in early 2023, and noted over 440 cases, but left without undertaking any operating. That is 1 in 25 of the population blind in 1 eye or 1 in 50 blind in both eyes. The Local Health Ministry of Tuvalu has requested I return to undertake this work as the NZ outreach service of the Fred Hollows Foundation are not intending to provide any support. I have written to the Australian Government Foreign Affairs Minister numerous times for support by way of equipment, supplies or transport, to no avail. In Australia, cataract surgery costs approximately $1,500 to the patient. Our team provides this operation at no cost to the local people. This most important work needs to be undertaken and it does require funding to continue the work.

Equipment and expendables all left behind for future years would all likely be no longer usable and will need to be sourced and replaced. The team also provide eye healthcare plus general education and glasses to as many people as is possible on each occasion. Our goal is to include Registrar trainees from Australasia to expose them to aspects of humanitarian care where they will also see extreme need and advanced pathology. We also aim to take other professionals who may wish to serve or study topics covering these island nations. There are now so many cases that are waiting for care I am unable to self-fund this work ongoing or fund the rest of the team that also volunteer their services. To take 2 months leave from my private practice to go to the Pacific to be able to continue this worthwhile work, is why financial assistance is being sought from everyday people who may have received vision saving surgery in Australia and appreciate the value of sight.

The huge backlog of these cases which I am committed to work through to restore the sight to people who some of can only detect light from dark, by providing Phaco Emulsification is the same treatment that you or I would receive in an Australian hospital. The success rate of restoring sight is very rewarding. The happiness of the people is immeasurable.

In the Pacific, Fiji has some 333 islands, Tonga has 170 and Tuvalu has 8. It makes sense to have a vessel to take care out to people in isolated regions where the planes do not go. Of the island groups there are only 3 possible places with 2 outreach clinics to service the whole of the region for eye care.
The purpose of using a boat is because in the past costly diagnostic and operating equipment have been left behind until the following visit. This equipment takes up a lot of space in a small hospital with limited space and could be utilized from the boat. Operating also creates a huge amount of waste which we would take away with us to minimise our carbon footprint. With a schedule of consecutive visits, better value would be obtained from the equipment and could be incorporated in the continuous training of the local islands eye nurses and doctors. This would then provide a powerful teaching and education exercise.
I was awarded an OAM in 2021 for my 40 years of service as an Eye Surgeon and also my work in the Pacific.

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  • Aimee Tran
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    • 9 mos
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  • Jim Iannone
    • $100 
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  • Murfett family
    • $200 
    • 10 mos
  • Helen Hall
    • $100 
    • 10 mos
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John Willoughby
Organisator
Bibaringa SA
Mia Zhang
Team member

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