Graduate optometrist Patrycja Zelazny has experienced first-hand, the work of The Fred Hollows Foundation, during a visit to the Pacific Eye Institute (PEI) in Suva, Fiji. Sponsored by Specsavers, she said she relished the opportunity to volunteer her skills and knowledge in a community in need of sustained eye care. Her work, undergone from 3 –7 June, will help equip students at PEI with the ability to provide long-term eye care to their local community.
With affordable and accessible eye care not yet universally available in the Pacific Islands, The Fred Hollows Foundation’s Fiji outreach program aims to bridge the gap by providing training for postgraduate students.
Ms Zelazny said her involvement with PEI allowed her to develop an understanding of those in need. She also recognised her reliance on the latest equipment readably available to her in Australia. Her new environment challenged her to trust her own ophthalmoscopy, retinoscopy and manual vertometry skills and see the importance of these skills in areas where new technology isn’t as accessible.
For example, the use of confrontation testing to screen patients was effective in identifying a bi-temporal field loss on an asymptomatic teenage girl. “This event totally changed my perspective on the value of this form of testing,” she said.
As well as this, Ms Zelazny noted the prevalence of eye related issues stemming from causes not as widely problematic in Australia. “I was surprised to see a staggering number of malignant hypertension cases, and blood glucose levels that were unable to be read as they exceeded the maximum range of the blood glucose monitor,” she said.
“The main cause of low vision in the patients I saw was due to refractive error, cataracts and diabetes. Some people live with this for five to eight years before seeking attention, and for many, cataracts are not treated until aided vision is 6/60 or less due to long waiting lists.”
In many cases, the unaffordability of spectacles available in Suva proves the greatest obstacle for locals. While PEI provides a cheaper alternative, in special circumstances the tailor-made spectacles supplied by Specsavers free of charge, help those otherwise unable to afford even the most basic of eye care.
Through her outreach experience Ms Zelazny recognised the importance of eye care in improving not only a patient’s vision but their quality of life too.