University and Fred Hollows Foundation join forces to prevent blindness
How can we most effectively prevent blindness in the Pacific? This is a key question University of Auckland researchers will be tackling as the result of targeted funding from The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ.
The Foundation, which works to eradicate avoidable blindness and restore sight in the Pacific, is funding two research scholarships to support Master of Public Health students within the School of Population Health (Global Health).
“We are very excited about the potential of this research to enhance our work in the Pacific,” says Andrew Bell, Executive Director of The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ. “Our priority is ensuring the best outcomes for people affected by avoidable blindness, and through targeted research we hope to gain a deeper understanding of the barriers and challenges we face delivering eye care programmes in the region.”
The first two students to win scholarships have already begun researching diabetes eye health in Fiji, where the Foundation has been involved in diabetes eye care training and service provision since 2010. They are working in partnership with The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ and the Pacific Eye Institute in Suva, a training centre for Pacific eye health workers established by the Foundation in 2006.
One of the projects is looking at how local GPs perceive the importance of eye care when patients present with diabetic symptoms. Regular eye screening is vital for patients presenting with diabetes and early intervention will help to ensure their vision is not affected by the disease.
“High blood sugar affects the retina and if left untreated can cause diabetic retinopathy, a condition that results in vision loss and even blindness,” explains Judith McCool, Senior Lecturer with the Global Health group and supervisor of the masters’ projects. “A survey of local doctors will give us a better understanding of how they approach eye health in diabetic patients.”
The second project is looking at the impact of the Foundation’s programmes on diabetes management and policy in Fiji. Through key informant interviews, the research will help The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ to target its interventions where it can be most effective.
To further support their work in the Pacific, The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ is also helping to support a part-time fellowship position at The University of Auckland’s Department of Ophthalmology.
“The Foundation will benefit hugely from the fellowship as The Department of Ophthalmology has so much to offer us in terms of their research expertise,” says Mr Bell. “We are really pleased to harness the expertise of New Zealanders to help eradicate avoidable blindness in the Pacific.”
“We already have several experienced candidates interested in this part-time fellowship,” says Professor Charles McGhee, from the Department of Ophthalmology. “This initial association with the FHFNZ allows us to combine our skills in a fruitful partnership which we anticipate will continue to expand our knowledge of blinding diseases and their presentation and treatment in the Pacific nations.”