Home Opinion Frank Short Solomon Islands: Considering the estimated 6,000 Solomon Islanders who are blind...

Solomon Islands: Considering the estimated 6,000 Solomon Islanders who are blind or visually impaired4 min read

Just over a year ago, the Medical Superintendent of the National Referral Hospital (NRH), Dr. John Hue, spoke during ‘World Sight Day.’ and said he estimated that 6,000 Solomon Islanders were blind or visually impaired.

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Catharine Wilson writing in a Humanitarian Affairs article added some background to the prevalence of blindness when she said much earlier in 2013, quote:

“For generations, eye diseases have taken their toll on Pacific Island peoples. Now the first nationwide survey in the Solomon Islands of Trachoma, which can lead to irreversible blindness by early adulthood, is revealing the silent penetration of this disease in widely dispersed Melanesian rural island communities.

“Trachoma is an infectious eye condition caused by a microorganism, chlamydia trachomatis, known to be spread by flies, with children and those living in overcrowded conditions the most vulnerable. Prolonged infection can lead to chronic scarring of the underside of the eyelid and its turning inward, resulting in lashes causing permanent damage to the eye’s cornea. Loss of sight is the most devastating outcome.

 “Trachoma has been named one of 17 Neglected Tropical Diseases by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for the persistent human and socioeconomic suffering it continues to inflict, particularly in the developing world.

“In the Solomon Islands, situated southeast of Papua New Guinea and north east of Australia, approximately 40 percent of the population of 550,000 could have active Trachoma, according to an assessment conducted in the last four years.

“The government has now embarked on the first ever comprehensive nationwide survey of the disease, which is expected to be completed by the end of November (2013)

“Of those children diagnosed with active Trachoma in the Solomon Islands, 73 percent lived in communities lacking sanitation, 63 percent had inadequate facial hygiene and only about half had access to a clean water source within a half-hour walk.”

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The Solomon Islands now has a fine Regional Eye Centre (REC) funded by the New Zealand Government’s aid programme and the NZ based Fred Hollows Foundation where   excellent work is being done in removing cataracts and restoring sight to many.

Despite the REC’s work, the country’s top causes for blindness and visual impairment remain cataracts.

Other leading causes are refractive errors meaning a need for glasses and diabetes which cause blood vessels to leak and bleeding in the eye causing loss of vision.

What more needs to be done to help the many with visual impairment and loss of sight, over and above the resources available from the Solomon Islands Government?   A poser I have thought about by turning to a US based charity called Perkins Organization and sent the organization the following message:

“Your website says – “Perkins International works to reach the most vulnerable children in some of the poorest places in the world. There are millions of children with visual impairment and multiple disabilities (MDVI) around the world who don’t receive the quality education they deserve. Perkins International works to put these children in school, equip educators with specialized skills they need to teach them and connect families with vital governmental and medical resources. We are expanding our work in certain countries – such as India, which has as many as 1 million children with visual impairment and additional disabilities – where we seek to improve screening and assessment, early intervention programs, school-age education and family support services.”

 “Could you possibly consider extending your international assistance help the many that are blind in the Solomon Islands?

 “As a retired police commissioner there I have continued to help those with disabilities in the poor, developing nation for the past 20 yrs but little, if anything, has been done to aid the vast majority of rural poor and blind in the country.  

 “There is now a Regional Referral Eye Centre built by the NZ Government and the Fred Hollows Foundation (NZ) where cataract removal is undertaken, but much of what your organisation is doing for blind people in Asia is absent in the Solomons – but much needed.

 “I would be most appreciative if you could help and look forward to hearing of any support you could consider giving.”

 I very much hope the charity will consider extending a helping hand to the Solomon Islands Government given its restraints on medical and eye services to adequately cover the needs of the rural poor enduring sight loss, perhaps in many instances needlessly.

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