Education and Training
The ETEP works closely with the Timor Leste Ministry of Health and the National Eye Centre to select and train local staff to improve national capacity. Training and up skilling the Timorese eye health personnel will ensure a sustainable and appropriate eye care program for the people of Timor Leste.
The Program supports medical, surgical and nursing ophthalmic training for Timorese doctors and nurses with support from visiting teams from Australia and a full-time international consultant ophthalmologist who works at the National Eye Centre in Dili. Through the Program, the first Timorese Ophthalmologist, Dr Marcelino Correia, completed his specialist training and graduated with a Masters in International Ophthalmology at the University of Sydney in 2010.
Eye Health Services
Visiting Australian teams support the delivery of eye services to rural and remote communities in Timor Leste through outreach clinics at the district referral hospitals, where the teams help screen over 200-400 patients, distribute glasses and provide up to 100 sight restoring operations in a single 7 day visit.
As part of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons’ Timor Leste Program, volunteers from Australia work with local non-governmental organisations such as East Timor Blind Union, Halibur Deficiente Matan Timor-Leste (Association of Blind and Partially Blind People of Timor-Leste) and Fuan Nabilan to deliver Orientation and Mobility, Braille and Vocational Skills training to complement the East Timor Eye Program’s work with preventable blindness.
Orientation and Mobility Training helps blind and low vision Timorese to increase their safety and independence by using white canes and low vision equipment. Training participants can also progress to Modules 2-4 where they learn to become Orientation and Mobility trainers.
The Orientation and Mobility training is provided with support from Guide Dogs Queensland and funding from Vision 2020 Australia Global Consortium.
Joana was working as a secretary in Dili in 2001, when her friend told her about a young man called Thomas who was totally blind. Joana had studied how to help people who were blind university so she went with her friend to visit Thomas at his house. When she got there she asked him if you knew braille or any other skills to help him live independently.
She was sad to find out that Thomas didn’t know how to read braille and she promised to return after work to help him learn.Once Joana started teaching Thomas, other people began to hear about what she was doing.
There were no services available in Timor-Leste for the blind and so many people began to ask Joana for help. She began holding classes under the shade of a big tree in Dili. People bought their children, nieces and nephews to her.
Guido is a seventy-one year old farmer who lives in Los Palos, in the far East of Timor-Leste. Before coming to the National Eye Centre Guido’s vision had been rapidly deteriorating for a year and for the last six months he had only been able to perceive hand movements in front of his eyes.
Guido used to lead an active life farming vegetables and corn, and acting as the village healer but as his eye sight deteriorated he found he could no longer do these things. Guido lives with his son, who helps him with fundamental activities when he is not at work. His son works hours away from their village and when he is away their extended family also helps out. For Guido the loss of independence associated with losing his eyesight was very hard and he felt sad that he could no longer help others.
Guido had severe bilateral cataracts. Cataracts are the most common cause of preventable blindness worldwide, however treatment requires access to healthcare workers, facilities and skilled surgeons. This case is one that is all too common in Timor-Leste. Timor-Leste is fortunate as it has a well-resourced National Eye Centre. It has skilled staff both in the hospital and in outreach teams. Despite this many people with preventable eye-disease do not receive timely treatment. There are clearly many additional barriers to receiving healthcare that must be overcome.