Glas bai elpim yu long lukluk gut

By: Drew Keys, Regional Program Manager, Western Pacific, IAPB and Former General Manager, PNG Eye Care

It’s a warm and sticky morning as PNG Eye Care team sets up in the shade of a mango tree on the grounds of the Bavoroko Primary School. We’re in the Port Moresby suburb of Boroko and there’s excitement in the air – class 3A is waiting, neat lines of boys and girls to match their carefully pressed, bright blue uniforms. Their anticipation is palpable as hundreds of their school mates mill around the open-sided hall. Equally excited, the screening team are posting eye charts, with masking tape to the metal columns of the A-frame.

This is a new thing in Port Moresby. School health programs are little-known and eye screening programs almost unheard of. But a USAID funded initiative has given PNG Eye Care the impetus to conduct the program and the visit to Bavoroko is the first of twelve scheduled visits in and around Port Moresby. For today’s visit, the PNG Eye Care refraction team have been joined by Deputy Chief Ophthalmologist of PNG, Dr Jambi Garap as well as staff from the National Department of Health.

‘We don’t do much school screening because most of our kids have healthy eyes,’ Dr Jambi explains, as the teacher on playground duty shoos a group of boys fascinated by the trial lense set. ‘But that’s a problem, because when our kids get older and have eye problems they don’t know what to do or where to go. Visiting a school isn’t just about finding eye problems, it’s also about educating the population so they have facts not superstitions.’

Samuel Koim, PNG Eye Care Senior Manager, agrees. ‘True,’ he says. ‘In the villages, people think once your eyesight starts to fade so does your life. If you can’t see to work, how do you earn money to eat? So people sit at home in their huts and relatives must provide for them.’ He instructs his team to distribute brochures with eye health messages to the children. ‘Give to Mum and Dad,’ he tells them.

It’s a simple message – a pair of glasses changes everything – one that is often taken for granted, but which the team at PNG Eye Care doesn’t underestimate. ‘If one of these girls learns to look after her eyes, then I’ve done my job’, refractionist, Anita John tells me. ‘I see so many women in my work who can’t read or use a computer. Imagine that? And the little ones. How can they even get an education if the board is blurring down or up?’

Dr Jambi is examining Lillian who giggles as she covers her left eye to read the VA chart. ‘What have you learnt, today?’ I ask.

She’s shy and looks to doctor for encouragement. ‘Eat more healthy… and get testing to keep my eyes healthy and strong,’ she says.

‘And what happens if you need a glass when you grow up?’ Doc asks.

‘They’ll help me see good!’

‘Yep.’ Samuel passes another wad of flyers into eager, outstretched hands, ‘Glas bai elpim yu long lukluk gut.’

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