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45 Years of Independence: Success in Papua New Guinea

Published: 21.09.2020
Jambi Garap President
PNG Prevention of Blindness Committee

Dr Jambi Garap, Senior Lecturer in Ophthalmology, University of Papua New Guinea/Chair National Prevention of Blindness Committee/Eye Health Hero 2016

September 16, 2020 marks 45 years since Papua New Guinea gained independence from Australia. Much has been written about PNG’s successes and our struggles over the past four and a half decades – I have written a number of posts discussing this in relation to the eye health sector. Today, I thought it fitting – and in-line with IAPB’s recent work around indigenous eye health – to reflect on the importance of National participation when it comes to delivering successful programmes for our people.

As many of you are aware, PNG has amongst the greatest eye health burdens of any country on earth – we know this because we complete the 2017 Rapid Assessment of Avoidable Blindness (RAAB) which found rates of blindness sit at over 5%; as high as 11% in women in the Highlands Region. We often talk about our success delivering the RAAB survey in a challenging environment such as PNG; and two years before that we successfully completed the Global Trachoma Mapping Project as well. These two big research assignments showed the world that PNG could do the hard work – what they also showed is that Papua New Guineans could implement significant programmes in the eye health sector.

I cannot discount the enormous support that our friends in Australia, New Zealand and beyond have gifted PNG over our 45 years. They have recognised the importance of helping us learn to stand on our own two feet and deliver. Would the RAAB and GTMP been as successful without the teams of local researchers working day and night, through rain and storms to carry out their tasks? I highly doubt it! Local knowledge and know-how was essential; those who support our programmes taught us that. With their help we have grown (and continue to grow) to develop and deliver our own programmes and input to theirs so that culturally appropriate delivery takes place.

Earlier this year, I took over the role of Senior Lecturer in Ophthalmology at UPNG. I follow in the footsteps of a long line of passionate, trail-blazing National ophthalmologists like Bage Yominao and Dr Peter Korimbu who have fought for this position. I am the first National to hold an ophthalmology teaching position at UPNG – it is a position that has been built in PNG for a curriculum that has been developed by PNG talent. Today I have five registrars in my programme – all of whom will one day take their place at the forefront of eye health – and I hope public health – in PNG.

One of the things I instil in my students is that being a Papua New Guinean ophthalmologist brings a duty to the people. Without our input we would not have programmes that are tailored and work for our nation – whether it be spectacle programmes which support local businesses, with designs that fit our faces and sense of fashion; whether it be culturally appropriate ways to assure cataract patients that their affliction is not the result of witchcraft or whether it be our knowledge in developing referral pathways… this is our duty and also our expertise.

We are PNG Nationals, we are proud of our 45 years.  I urge my compatriots to take this opportunity to say tenkyu tru to our partners and also to celebrate the work that we have done to ensure ongoing successes in PNG eye health for the next 45 years and beyond.