Samoa’s Eye Health Department hosted an eye health stakeholder consultation

Samoa’s Eye Health Department hosted an eye health stakeholder consultation on the 2nd August with the aim of lessening avoidable blindness in Samoa. Stakeholders from within the Ministry of Health, district health facilities from Upolu and Savai’i, as well as representatives from the Ministry of Education, the World Health Organization, The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ, and the US Embassy in Samoa were present. The key priority is to enable early and easy access to quality eye care for all Samoans.
The consultation involved a presentation from Samoa’s only ophthalmologist, Dr Lucilla Ah Ching-Sefo, on the landscape of eye health in Samoa, including strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Dr Ah Ching-Sefo emphasised that ophthalmic nurse training has been a particular success over the last couple of decades, with 17 ophthalmic nurses graduating from Fiji National University’s one-year Postgraduate Diploma in Eye Care (PGDEC) as a result of the strong partnership with The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ/Pacific Eye Institute.
The training of the workforce has enabled the access to quality eye care by tens of thousands of Samoans.
Dr Lucilla Ah Ching-Sefo says that she is proud of the achievements made by the ophthalmic workforce to enable good access to primary eye care across Samoa, which was non-existent in recent times.
Hon. Minister of Health, Valasi Tafito Selesele delivered the keynote address and spoke of the immense achievements made in increasing access to quality eye care in Samoa, acknowledging the considerable progress made in fortifying Samoa’s eye health care system through improved infrastructure and skilled workforce.
‘While we’ve done some incredible work, it’s essential to always strive for more. Our mission is to guarantee quality eye care for all Samoan citizens.’
Aiono Dr Alec Ekeroma, Director General of Health, spoke of the importance of a national eye health policy and noted that the consultation would help drive its development. Samoa has undertaken long-term planning exercises, and is in a strong position, however, an endorsed policy would help to ensure the long-term focus and investment on eye health to accelerate progress.
Strong eye health leadership and planning is critical for addressing the significant impact that vision loss has on economic development caused by diabetes, which disproportionately affects the working age population, thus contributing to the cycle of unemployment and poverty. Diabetic retinopathy (diabetes eye disease) remains top of mind for the Ministry of Health given the rising rates of diabetes in the region, which increases the likelihood of blindness by 25 times.
Alarmingly, over the coming decades, it is projected that the prevalence of vision loss will markedly increase, due to rapidly growing and ageing populations, along with behavioural and lifestyle changes, ongoing increases in non-communicable diseases (NCDs), urbanisation, and the climate crisis.
‘As we look to the future, let us chart our course with the foresight to prevent the avoidable, treat the curable, and empower the affected. Together, we can shape a future where vision impairment and avoidable blindness are the
exception, not the norm.’
For more information about the consultations or if you would like to be involved in ongoing eye health system strengthening planning efforts, please get in touch with the Ministry of Health, Moto’otua.