After re-establishment of government services in early 2019 on Ambae, the Godden Memorial Hospital (GMH) received its first eye specialist team visit this week.
Dr. Johnson Kasso, the first ni-Vanuatu Ophthalmologist (“Dokta blo ae’’), based at the Northern Provincial Hospital on Santo, this week led a team to GMH on Ambae to ensure that his services reached patients at the provincial level.
According to Dr. Kasso, there are a significant amount of ni-Vanuatu in rural Vanuatu who have eye problems that can be fixed surgically.
“We are thankful to the Penama Health Executive to fund our trip to Ambae to make this service available to our people in Penama”, says Dr. Kasso. “The COVID-19 preparedness and response had made it impossible for us to go to other places in Vanuatu, since the Ministry of Health had focused all efforts on COVID-19. But we are happy that Penama Health had supported us since our service is essential whether in good times or bad times.”
Dr Kasso says that all health services are essential and he hopes that other specialty services that are deficient in rural hospitals will arrive in due time.
Altogether the eye team, consisting solely of ni-Vanuatu doctors and nurses, have done 17 eye surgeries at the GMH operating theater, and reviewed more than 60 patients in the eye clinic this week. The 17 eye surgeries were performed on elderly patients with cataracts (ae hemi kam waet) and adult patients with pterygiums (mit hemi gro lo ae). An excited patient from Locenter village, on east Ambae says he is finally able to see better after suffering from cataracts for sometime now. “I can’t wait for the next visit so I can have my other eye fixed”, he remarked confidently. Surgeries like this are usually done by ophthalmologist in Santo, or Vila. With Doctor Kasso in the lead, his hope is to take this specialist eye service closer to peoples’ door step.
“Blindness can be considered worse than death” is a common phrase highlight the disability that comes with blindness or other debilitating eye condition.
The provincial eye Nurse Practitioner, based at GMH, has been collecting cases in Penama who have waited for referral to Santo or Vila since 2018. Now they have finally been treated at their doorstep.
In preparation for eye care services, the provincial hospital dedicated itself to renovate the operating theatre and install proper air conditioning to ensure that surgical teams can operate without complications. “Preparation is important to ensure we do the best we can for our people.
“Although a challenge still remains, that is how the team can reach out to other islands in Penama province”, says eye nurse practitioner Gilles Tavoa.
Dr. Kasso and his team hope to return bigger and reach out to other islands of Penama in future visit. But he insists that having provincial health team and hospital administration that is supportive of specialist services is the key to ensuring these vital services happen at provincial hospitals. “We will be going to Sola before the end of this year, and I have the nurse practitioners already making preparations for our visit,” he adds.
Dr. Kasso feels accomplished, especially because he had put his skills in good use. Among the eye team, Dr. Kasso had brought with him a trainee nurse, and a trainee doctor both of whom hope to become future eye specialists. He finds that outreaches are great opportunity for his trainees to learn from different patients and from the community.
“In the provincial outreaches, our trainees get a chance to see the reality of health challenges and learn from them,” says Dr Lawrence Boe, who is the Acting Medical Superintendent in GMH and also a trainee in the Rural and Remote Medicine program.
The GMH administration is grateful of the quality of the care provided by Dr. Kasso and his team, and have stressed that health services like this must be made available. “Despite challenges we are facing we will continue to advocate for improvement of health services in our rural population”, concluded Dr Boe, “and our Penama Health Executive Committee will always support specialists visits to serve our people.”