At the end of June, PacEyes held its biannual conference at the Holiday inn Hotel in Suva. From its inception in 2004, the organisation has gone from strength to strength, celebrating with a packed programme of activities and a gala birthday dinner. Fittingly, this was the largest PacEyes yet with 140 registrants from countries across the Blue Continent, including Nauru for the first time.
The event coincided with the Dr Astrid Bonfield’s visit to the Pacific Islands to thank the sector for their achievements and hard work during the period of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust. The two main projects, which have benefitted from Trust funding – Pacific Trachoma Initiative of the Fred Hollows Foundation Australia and the Fred Hollows Foundation New Zealand DR – held informative side-meetings to discuss the ongoing progress and next steps. It’s truly impressive to see and hear about the impactful nature of the work across Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji. Some of this work is of particular global significance – for example, working to understand the “enigma” of trachoma in the Pacific Islands (despite high incidence of follicles, there are generally low levels of trichiasis).
The inspiration continued into the programme with a key-note session dedicated to the nurses who are the back-bone of eye health services in the Pacific Islands. Amanda Davis, Regional Chair for IAPB, moderated the session with panellists including Dr Haris Ansari (Pacific Eye Institute), Stephanie Long (Fred Hollows New Zealand) and Lo Vola (from Lautoka Hospital). Sister Vola spoke passionately about the need for nurses to find their voice if they are to continue to deliver quality services; Dr Ansari urged other ophthalmologists to work closely with the nurses in their clinics to maximise outputs and Stephanie Long reinforced the importance of including nurses in decision making and programme planning.
From the IAPB perspective, PacEYES is us in miniature – a microcosm of the global eye health alliance, but in this instance straddling the Blue Continent. It’s the one time, every two years, that our members can network and discuss, share their work, their successes and challenges. It’s a Global Assembly in miniature. So it was only fitting that a GA consultation session was held during the meeting – an opportunity for Pasifika to have its say. It was wonderful to have past Regional Chair Richard Le Mesurier in the room, as well as Komal Ram and Dr Ana Cama who have had such an impact on both IAPB and PacEYES over the past decade. But perhaps the most poignant moment came when Dr Jambi Garap spoke about being a 2016 recipient of the Eye Health Hero award at the 11GA in Durban. She talked about how proud and honoured she was to accept the award on behalf of PNG, how the award is open to anyone to enter and how she hoped more Eye Health Hero Awards could be won in the Pacific next year. She urged her colleagues to send in their abstracts and get their sponsorship ready so they too can attend the GA in Singapore.
It was a reminder that we are all part of a family – sometimes our gatherings are small and regional; sometimes large and global. But the thing that PacEYES does well, IAPB does well too – we bring people together… ophthalmologists, optometrist, eye nurses, global citizens. #strongertogether.