Malo e Lelei! This year was my first VOSO trip and my first visit to the beautiful Kingdom of Tonga. The team spent the week solely on the main island of Tongatapu this year. Hywel Bowen and I provided optometric services in the team along with the support of the nurses of the Vaiola Hospital who were extremely helpful as assistants as well as interpreters. Mele Vuki, an optically trained nurse, was able to screen many of the straightforward presbyopes while we tackled some of the tougher cases. We examined plenty of diabetics, some with severe proliferative retinopathy. We also saw a few more “interesting” cases, such as the man who has not taken his prosthetic eye out to clean in 20 years!
One young boy of 11 years old had his second juvenile cataract operated on this year by the doctors of our team, Dr Andrew Riley and Dr John-Paul Blanc. They had a fantastic result with him achieving 6/9 vision each eye unaided. I refracted him and I was able to find him a pair of small progressive spectacles that he could use for school. He left clutching his spectacle case with a big smile on his face. With no local optometric specialists or facilities, either private or public, based in Tonga, we knew we’d made a real difference to this boy, who will not get a chance to see another clinician for 12 months.
My first VOSO trip was certainly very busy but it was also incredibly rewarding. I was very appreciative of all the work and planning that was put into our one week. I left Tonga with a new perspective on the islands and on eye care in general, and I know I will be back!