Hamilton eye expert has clear vision for Pacific

LIB WILSON
Last updated 05:00 01/08/2014

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A Hamilton eye expert is heading to Fiji this month, but not to holiday at the beach.

Instead, Dr Jim Stewart will be using his expertise to train local eye health workers as director of the Pacific Eye Institute in Suva.

He was appointed by the Fred Hollows Foundation NZ, which works to end avoidable blindness in 30 developing countries in Asia, Africa and the Pacific.

And Stewart, an ophthalmologist, looks forward to making a difference at the institute, which sees more than 30,000 patients a year.

"We tend to be dealing with people who have real eye problems where we can really make an impact," he said.

Cataracts and diabetic eye disease were the two most common problems, "but they see anything else that walks in the door".

There was an overwhelming need for eye doctors in the Pacific, Stewart said.

"The eye nurses often have huge responsibilities . . .

"They'll be in a group of islands with no eye doctor around.

"And they have to sort out any problem they get to the best of their ability.

"There still is a big shortage."

Since 2007, the foundation has trained more than 100 eye doctors and nurses at the institute, and graduates are working in countries across the Pacific.

Stewart will be the second director of the institute.

"John [Szetu] did a wonderful job developing the facility so my challenge is to take it to the next level," he said.

"What I'm really hoping is that after I have been there for a period I can really have a sense of achievement - that I have taught some people and trained people and got them out working in the Pacific, and also made my mark on the Pacific Eye Institute."

It will be a world away from his work at the Hamilton Eye Clinic and Waikato Hospital, but working in the developing world has been in the back of his mind for a while.

He had a taste of the conditions in the early 1990s when he spent a "rich and rewarding" year working in Jerusalem's St John's ophthalmic hospital.

Fred Hollows Foundation NZ executive director Andrew Bell said Stewart had the right mix of attributes for the role. "His skills as an ophthalmologist will enhance the foundation's ability to help more people see again in the Pacific," Bell said.

He said Stewart also had a commitment to training young doctors.

Stewart is originally from Auckland and studied medicine in Dunedin, the United Kingdom and the United States.

He then began specialising in glaucoma and putting down roots in the Waikato.

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- Waikato Times

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