Sunday, April 06, 2008
With a little help from your friends
There are no politics in this kind of medical care. A team from New Zealand going to places like Labasa to perform urgent eye surgery. Peceli was telling me a story of how a family in Labasa was overjoyed because the lady of the household had been a patient from one of these teams from New Zealand. Now she can see her life has been transformed. So I searched for a website about the tour by a team of doctors such as this and found the following informatioo. Fiji certainly does get a lot of help from their overseas friends and there's no talk of politics in this kind of healing.
Eye doctors in Labasa
Humanitarian eye care Dr McKellar is passionately interested in helping eye doctors and their patients in the 'Two-Thirds World'. He has worked in Vanuatu, Fiji and Israel-Palestine including the Gaza Strip.
VOSO, Volunteer Ophthalmic Services Overseas, is a joint project of New Zealand optometrists and ophthalmologists which sends approximately six teams a year to various South Pacific destinations. Each year Dr McKellar travels to Labasa, Fiji with VOSO. The VOSO team that visits Labasa includes Dr McKellar, a senior trainee eye surgeon and four optometrists. Over two weeks the team screens around 1500 patients and performs 60-80 cataract operations, typically for patients who are totally blind.
The experiences of the team are described in the report below, written by Dr Andrew Thompson who went with Dr McKellar in 2006.
VOSO Labasa, Fiji
Dr Andrew Thompson
As a man walked along the beach he saw another man throwing stones into the sea. As he approached, he saw the stones were actually thousands of starfish washed up on the sand. He asked the man throwing the starfish into the sea if he thought he was making a difference. As the man threw yet another starfish into the sea he said “I made a difference to that one”.
The annual New Zealand-based Volunteer Ophthalmic Services Overseas (VOSO) trip to Fiji is no different, in that often the impact of restoring lost vision through providing glasses or cataract surgery is not immediately evident. However, the value and benefit of visual rehabilitation of those living in under resourced Pacific regions should not be underestimated.
In the last two weeks of July, New Zealand ophthalmologists Drs Malcolm McKellar and Andrew Thompson traveled to Labasa, Fiji to provide ophthalmic services. Optometrists Michael Brown, Kylie Dreaver, Stephen Macredie and Colette Read accompanied them. More than half the team has been involved in aid work before, and their experience was invaluable.
Labasa is the largest town in the friendly north of Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island. Labasa has a population of approximately 25,000 with a large Indian community and the only set of traffic lights on the island. Sugar cane is the principle industry that employs around 800 people in the local sugar mill. During our time in Labasa, there was an endless procession of sugar cane-laden trucks passing through the town to the mill. Thankfully, the traffic lights permitted us to safely cross the road.
Leaving behind the New Zealand winter, the team enjoyed the sun and warmth of Fiji. However, one of the more arduous aspects of the trip was the two days travel to Labasa. Although Air Fiji provided free internal flights and transfer of excess baggage from Nadi to Labasa, Air New Zealand was not so generous and levied approximately $1000 for almost 300 kg excess baggage. Individuals carrying examination equipment home were again charged by Air New Zealand for excess baggage on return flights to New Zealand. Fortunately, customs did not pose any obstacle. Their only question was whether the surgical instruments were for human or animal use.
Members of the Lions Club welcomed the team on arrival in Labasa, presented each team member with a floral lei and provided a barbecue lunch. The team stayed at the comfortable Takia Hotel on Labasa’s main street, complete with disco playing music loudly and late into the night several nights during the week. Box after box of equipment was transported to Labasa Hospital in readiness for clinic and theatre on Monday morning.
The Nutrition Centre of the hospital was set up to screen patients, around which an ever-increasing queue of people formed every morning. Areas were designated for medical records, examination, refraction, biometry and dispensing spectacles. During the 2-week visit, 1500 patients were consulted. This included patient review in several outlying villages within easy reach as a day trip from Labasa. Glasses were prescribed and supplied where appropriate and patients referred for ophthalmological assessment as necessary. Cases consulted included severe diabetic retinopathy, buphthalmos, longstanding trauma, advanced glaucoma, colobomata and retinal detachments. Despite English being the official language of Fiji and team members rapidly acquiring basic Hindi instructions to facilitate examination, translators were often required.
The hospital had 2 operating theatres, one of which was made available for our exclusive use during the 2-week visit. Two surgical teams enabled two operations to proceed simultaneously in the same theatre. The aim of the surgical team was to support local ophthalmologist Dr Sandeep Nakhate in the transition from extracapsular to sutureless small-incision cataract surgery. All 3 surgeons successfully used the technique to complete the majority of the 63 cataract operations performed. Pterygium and other minor surgery were also performed.
The following companies and organisations deserve special mention for their support: Alcon, Pfizer, the Lions Club of Labasa, Air Fiji and the Hot Springs Hotel in Savusavu.
Optometrists should consider participating in a VOSO trip. Advantages include a team approach to ophthalmic service delivery with ophthalmologists on hand to review pathology and provide feedback. Optometrists can expect to see more pathology in 2 weeks than in a year in New Zealand, and opportunities exist to develop friendships and extend travel en route home. Aside from improving professional skills in the developing world with all its inherent frustrations and difficulties, participation offers considerable personal satisfaction. During our visit, many starfish returned to the sea.