Provision Members visiting twice a year and training eye care nurses
Sumba is a small island situated north of Darwin and part of Indonesia. It hosts a population of 670,000 people but for a long time there has been no optometric presence on the island. Along with the Sumba Foundation, Optometry Giving Sight is helping to change this. Since 2007 Provision members Peter Stewart OAM and Peter Lewis OAM, have been visiting Sumba twice a year in partnership with Dr Mark Ellis AM and the Australian Ophthalmologists to develop the Sumba Eye Program and bring proper eye care to this unique little country.
Their first trip was to Waingapu, East Sumba. Since then they have been based west of the Island at Waikabubak and have seen nearly 10,000 patients, carried out around 750 surgical procedures and supplied about 8,500 pairs of spectacles.
With an initial focus on service provision, over time the program has increased its focus on teaching and training of Indonesian health personnel in an effort to help establish a sustainable local infrastructure for eye care in Sumba.
While battling the issues that surround dealing with a sovereign government and an unfamiliar health care system both men are determined to see this goal through to fruition and have enlisted the help of two eager and dedicated local women that are helping them get there.
Nefri and Sani are the two eye care nurses instrumental to the success of the Sumba Eye Program. They recently visited Australia for training that enhanced their skills and reputation in delivering eye correction and health to the local Sumbanese. During their visit they discussed the challenges they face in delivering eye care throughout Sumba. Not only is the country one of Indonesia’s poorest nations but its citizens are spread throughout difficult to reach rural regions. Despite all this it’s clear that these committed nurses are up to the challenge, doing whatever it takes to get the job done. Nefri has spoken of her desire to see a fully functional eye clinic established as she ‘hopes especially to see a decrease in eye problems in children as they are the future of Sumba.’ With every visit Nefri and Sany’s skills and confidence reach new levels and the two are invaluable in their ability to raise awareness about eye care health in their communities.
The challenges for the Australian team come in the way of the sheer volume and variety of problems that patients present with and the simple fact that there aren’t enough resources to help everyone. However they say they take comfort in helping those they can and seeing that despite what the local Sumbanese might go without they still smile, have a wonderful sense of family and community, and a great pride in their culture. Peter Stewart even wonders just who has got it right and appreciates the balance these trips put back in his life.
Peter also recently remarked on Optometry Giving Sight’s support for the Sumba Eye program saying, "I would like to acknowledge Optometry Giving Sight who have been a major contributor towards this project, but more importantly to remind everyone here that OGS is our charity, and one that we should be immensely proud of. It has achieved some remarkable results worldwide in helping to eliminate refractive blindness and this has only occurred through your support. Optometry Giving Sight is also supporting optometry by helping to establish sustainable vision centres in countries where they currently don’t exist, just like Sumba. Every dollar counts and it is imperative that we as a profession continue donating as best as we can".
The Australian team members of the Sumba Eye Program recently returned from their first visit of the year and have remarked on its success in terms of solidifying a path to more training for local eye care professionals. Lectures were carried out at Hasinuddin University, training clinics were conducted in Hobawawi and Lamboya, and in a hugely significant move there are now plans for three other universities to become part of a new group for training. As a result of this trip the Sumba Eye Program will be expanding more widely across the country, a great step forward in the aim of establishing a sustainable and locally led eye care service. Since beginning the program over 11,000 people have been assisted and the team are proud of the number of optometrists who have been part of it, and enriched by it. They are also elated to see the final stages of what they set out to achieve within sight – a locally led eye care infrastructure that will improve eye health in Sumba, sustainably, for years to come.