Aside from the television advertisements showcasing tranquil island getaways, I knew very little about Samoa when I decided to take the opportunity to accompany John Tarbutt on VOSO’s annual optometric outreach to Samoa in August this year.
We spent a week on the beautiful island of Savai’i; working at Safotu and Tuasivi hospitals; refracting, examining and giving out new and pre-loved spectacles we had brought with us from NZ. We were fortunate to be able to work with Samoa’s only resident optometrist, Fuiavailili Erna Takazawa, who is based in the capital Apia, as well as several well-trained eye nurses at the local hospitals. For most of the year, these nurses offer the only optometric and ophthalmic care to the island’s residents.
We were also able to identify many cases of pathology which were referred for ophthalmic care when the next surgical team arrived on the island. With the lack of adequate eye care, many simple pathological cases, such as cataract, pterygia and diabetic retinopathy, were in their most advanced states; to a level which we would never see in NZ. While acutely aware of how much more I would be able to offer these patients if they were in my home practice in the Waikato, their gratitude for our services provided the driving force to make this appeal a success.
My week in Samoa was an eye-opening experience which enabled me to appreciate the true value of the care we offer as optometrists. It was a privilege to be able to help the lovely people of Savai’i, and I encourage any interested optometrists to volunteer their time for future outreaches should the opportunity arise.