The East Timor Eye Program began in July 2000 in response to a request from the World Health Organization to re-establish eye health services soon after Timor Leste gained independence from Indonesia. The Program’s aim is to make Timor Leste self-sufficient in eye care services by 2020 and help eradicate preventable blindness by 2025.
In the early years, the focus of the Program was on delivering curative eye care services. This included cataract and other ophthalmic surgery as well as the provision of spectacles to people affected by the conflict.
Over the years, the focus of the Program has changed from service delivery towards capacity building. Significant progress has been made in reducing the country’s severe cataract backlog – primarily through the combined efforts of visiting eye teams, monthly outreach visits, the placement of a long term expatriate ophthalmologist in-country as well as placement of trained eye care nurses and technicians throughout the country.
The Program is becoming increasingly focused on expanding its Outreach Program in Timor Leste to increase access to eye care services for communities living in rural and isolated areas outside Dili, the capital city. In addition, the Program is also implementing activities focused on capacity building around postgraduate teaching and training and infrastructure development.
Over 33,000 Timorese people (or 2.8% of the population) have a visual impairment which has a substantial impact on their ability to carry out usual day to day activities, according to figures from the 2010 Timor Leste National census.
The most common eye problems in Timor Leste are preventable or treatable. Common causes of blindness and visual impairment include refractive error, cataract, vitamin A deficiency and trauma.
Access to eye care services is particularly difficult for people living in the more rural and remote areas of Timor Leste. It is not uncommon for family members to travel for hours by foot to access medical treatment including eye care services.
Timor Leste is one of the world's newest and poorest countries, with over 37% of the population living below the poverty line. Access to health care is particularly difficult for rural families who must walk long distances to access medical treatment.
Eye Health in Timor Leste
The National Eye Centre
The National Eye Centre opened in July 2012 is located at the National Hospital in Timor Leste’s capital, Dili. The Centre was funded by the Timorese Ministry of Health, the Australian Government and the Fred Hollows Foundation. The East Timor Eye Program contributed to the infrastructure and equipping of the National Eye Centre.