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The Glimmer of Gold in Papua New Guinea amidst COVID-19

Published: 07.09.2020
Gillian Cochrane Founder Collaborative Vision; Consultant Program Manager PNG, Brien Holden Foundation
Collaborative Vision
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Acknowledgements: Brien Holden Foundation and Lions Clubs International Foundation

It has been a bit of a shake-up this year so far, hasn’t it? Yet, despite the considerable disruption caused by COVID-19 throughout the world, in the Pacific, fast action and island geography have prevented the worst of COVID-19 fallout. Being realistic about how health care systems could cope with such a virus demonstrates a strong pragmatic streak that is echoed by the work of the Papua New Guinean National Low Vision (LV) Network. The recently formed LV Network shared their work and progress during the second online PNG National Prevention of Blindness Committee meeting on July 2nd 2020, which was well attended by national and international members and observers.

Not being able to travel domestically or internationally has made the need for virtual meetings to be more warmly embraced and, after having a few false starts at mixed-presence meetings last year, the LV Network are now getting really good at them!

Our last in-person whole of network meeting occurred March 9th and 10th this year immediately after the inaugural Launch of the WHO World Report on Vision in the Pacific. From that strategic planning workshop, we have collectively developed a national referral pathway for adults and children with vision impairment using our existing structures, facilities and personnel. This strategy means that the referral pathway can be immediately implemented and will be complimented with an induction training for all personnel who can be involved in identifying and referring individuals for assessment, treatment, training and support. The pathway involves all sectors – health, education (inclusive education and adult training), disability, mobility, audio, physio, orthotics, prosthetics and psychological support for individuals and their families, carers and communities. The training includes 4 main streams: 1. understanding vision impairment and blindness; 2. the referral pathway at the person level and at the higher inter-sectorial communication level; 3. ethics and confidentiality around referral; and 4. counselling and support for individuals and their families, carers and communities as well as for health and education professionals.

In addition to developing the referral pathway, Network members are developing a policy document which is considered a ground-breaking founding document in PNG that will support other areas of impairment and disability. The real good news story here is how well all the different sectors (Health, Education, Disability, Community Development, NGOs and Private) involved in supporting people with vision impairment have come together to share their knowledge, experience and expertise to develop a robust pathway and policy document in the face of many current organisational and personal challenges. Watch this space for the release of the policy document later this year!