As part of the Niue Eye Team, Dr Sarah Welch recently returned after a very successful and enjoyable 2019 volunteer trip. Every year an eye team consisting of two eye specialists, a nurse, an optometrist and a retinal screener travel to Niue to provide treatment for residents who are otherwise unable to access life-changing eye surgery and treatments without travelling abroad. The team have had a long commitment to Niue, and this year marked Dr Sarah Welch's 5th trip to the island.
Although the team have been visiting Niue since 2009, this year's trip introduced small incision phacoemulsification cataract surgery, thanks to a generous donation of a quality operating microscope from Zeiss (a German manufacturer of optical systems). This surgical procedure involves using a high-frequency ultrasound probe to fragment the clouded lens and remove the lens fragments from the eye, before inserting an artificial intraocular lens to restore the patients' vision. Over the course of the week, the team were able to see several hundred patients and undertake 34 cataract operations. As there had been no cataract surgery on the island since the last extracapsular cataract extractions, in 2015, most of the patients' cataracts were very advanced.
Another great achievement of this year’s trip was that the Eye Team taught two of the three local hospital doctors the technique for intravitreal avastin injections (a procedure which involves injecting medicine into the vitreous, near the retina at the back of the eye) for patients with severe diabetic maculopathy. There were a handful of patients who previously needed to be flown to Auckland for these monthly injections to preserve their sight. However, now that these are available locally the cost and time savings will be significant in the future.
Overall the 2019 Niue trip was a huge success and the locals made the team feel very welcome during their visit. Dr Sarah Welch really enjoys her visits to Niue and finds it very rewarding to catch up with the many patients and staff who she now knows quite well. She certainly feels like her trips are making a difference to the eye health of Niue.
Well done Sarah and the Niue Eye Team!