Significant steps forward in eye care in PNG

John Farmer has returned home to work with Leunig and Farmer Eyecare after spending almost two years training nurses and rural doctors in eye care in Papua New Guinea.

In June 2010, John took up a position with the Fred Hollows Foundation as PNG Education Manager. He was also the Head of the Department of Eye Care at the Divine Word University in Madang.

PNG February 2011. John Farmer in white.

PNG February 2011. John Farmer in white.

John said, “It was a real blessing for Judy and I to be able to live and work in PNG. I really enjoyed the teaching and leading of the training programs. My primary role was to teach and also to coordinate visiting lecturers in delivering the Post Graduate Diploma in Eyecare (PGDEC) course. This is a one year program for qualified Nurses and Health Extension Officers (Rural Doctors).

During the course these graduates are trained to become non surgical eye care clinicians with the title “Ophthalmic Clinicians”.

There were 10 graduates in the 2010 course and 8 graduates in 2011. John was in PNG until the middle of March this year to start the 2012 course for another 8 students and hand over to the incoming Head of Department.

grad 2011

2011 Graduates with John Farmer (centre)

“We lived in a small one bedroom unit on the university campus which was relatively safe.” John said. “As well as leading the teaching and coordinating the training courses, I was able to help with the progress of eye care development at a national level… something that is much harder to do when only visiting part time. Working with the PNG Medical Board I has able to gain registration for the graduates of the one year PGDEC course as ‘Ophthalmic Clinicians’ providing them formal recognition in the PNG health system.

Together with one of the senior Ophthalmologists in PNG, Dr Jambi Garap, I co-wrote the National Eye Plan 2011-2015 that was adopted by all those working in eye care in PNG including the various international aid organisations. Eye Care is now leading the way as the only clinical discipline in health care to have a comprehensive national plan. .We were also able to establish a National Prevention of Blindness Committee that I am still serving on. This National Prevention of Blindness Committee has attracted financial support from the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness.

In line with the National Eye Plan I also re-introduced a 10 week certificate in eye care course to train rural nurses and health workers in basic eye care. This was also conducted at the Divine Word University and ten people successfully completed this course in 2011, and it is set to run again this year. The more people we can train appropriately the more people will have access to eye care in a country in which there are few health resources.”

In PNG there are 14 ophthalmologists and 30 ophthalmic Clinicians trying to serve a population of almost 7 million. This is desperately inadequate given Australia with 3 times the population has over 700 ophthalmologists and over 3000 optometrists.
John is also active on the board of the PNG Eye Care which is a national NGO organisation (supported by the International Centre for Eyecare Education) working to make glasses accessible and affordable to the 7 million people of PNG.

Now back working with Leunig and Farmer, John will continue his PNG involvement returning to PNG from time to time for short visits continue to provide some teaching and to support the trained eye care workers.

This year marks 30 years since John first visited PNG to undertake eye care in 1982. “It has been amazing to see what has been accomplished over those years from the humble beginnings of Leunig and Farmer doing short term trips to remote areas of PNG to training PNG workers to do the work themselves. The nurses and HEO’s we have trained and will continue to mentor and support are now the backbone of eye care in PNG” John said.