Eye Health in Timor Leste
Over 33,000 Timorese people (or 2.8% of the population) have a visual impairment, according to figures from the 2010 Timor-Leste National census.
The most common eye problems in Timor-Leste are preventable or treatable. Common causes of blindness and visual impairment include refractive error, cataract, vitamin A deficiency and trauma.
Access to eye care services is particularly difficult for people living inremote areas of Timor Leste. It is not uncommon for family members to travel for hours by foot to access medical treatment including eye care services.
The East Timor Eye Program
The East Timor Eye Program began in July 2000 in response to a request from the World Health Organization to re-establish eye health services soon after Timor Leste gained independence from Indonesia. The Program’s aim is to make Timor Leste self-sufficient in eye care services by 2015 and help eradicate preventable blindness by 2025.\
The ETEP has significantly contributed to the development of the Timorese eye health system over the past fifteen years. In the early years, the focus of the Program was on delivering curative eye care services. This included cataract and other ophthalmic surgery as well as the provision of spectacles to people affected by the conflict.
Over the years, the focus of the Program has changed from service delivery towards capacity building. Significant progress has been made in reducing the country’s severe cataract backlog – primarily through the combined efforts of visiting eye teams, monthly outreach visits, the placement of a long term expatriate ophthalmologist in-country as well as placement of trained eye care nurses and technicians throughout the country.
The Program is becoming increasingly focused on expanding its Outreach Program in Timor Leste to increase access to eye care services for communities living in rural and isolated areas outside Dili, the capital city. In addition, the Program is also implementing activities focused on capacity building around postgraduate teaching and training and infrastructure development.
In 2013, ETEP shifted its focus to capacity building development with the aim of delivering in-country training to the first generation of national eye health personnel who will eventually take over the delivery and management of the eye health system.
The National Eye Centre
The National Eye Centre opened in July 2012 is located at the National Hospital in Dili. The Centre was funded by the Timorese Ministry of Health, the Australian Government and the Fred Hollows Foundation. The East Timor Eye Program contributed to the infrastructure and equipping of the National Eye Centre.
In December 2015, FHFNZ left Timor-Leste and the National Eye Centre was taken over by the “Hospital Nacional Guido Valadares” and all the staff were employed by the GoTL .
It is now designated the Department of Ophthalmology(DoO) of HNGV and is the centre of the Eye program in Timor Leste. The ETEP continues to support the DoO as before and over the years has:
- Carried out more than 7500 sight restoring operayions of varying complexity
- Dispensed more that 64,000 pairs of glasses
- Trained FOUR ophthalmologists(one masters level and three at the Diploma level) They can now perform nay operations and treatments independently .
- International ophthalmologists have regularly visited the Department of Ophthalmology to deliver teaching to the PGDO trainees on sub-specialty topics (including optics, refraction, glaucoma, ocular plastic surgery and paediatric ophthalmology) enhancing their diagnostic, clinical and surgical skills.
- Timor-Leste’s first and only national ocularist has also been trained through the SightFirst project, resulting in the establishment of a locally run prosthetic eye service available in Timor-Leste for the first time.
- The provision of essential equipment has also been a key component of the project, providing world class ophthalmic equipment for use at the Department of Ophthalmology and on outreach visits to district eye clinics, enhancing eye health workers’ ability to effectively diagnose and treat various eye health conditions.
- To ensure the equipment is appropriately serviced and repaired, two biomedical equipment maintenance visits have also been undertaken, with a focus on training national staff to take over equipment maintenance and repair in the future.
- Eye Care delivery has now spread to a total of 13 districts and sub districts that receive 1-3 visits/year
Over the next three years, it is planned to make the Eye Program