Turn­ing around­ti­mor’s health

Western Suburbs Weekly - - Health - By GIO­VANNI TORRE

PERTH oph­thal­mol­o­gists have played a key role in a longterm Aus­tralian pro­gram that has seen the num­ber of lo­cal doc­tors in Ti­mor-leste grow to al­most 1000.

When Ti­mor-leste gained full in­de­pen­dence in 2001, its health sys­tem had 20 doc­tors. That fig­ure is ex­pected to be more than 1000 by the end of this year, ac­cord­ing to the Royal Aus­tralasian Col­lege of Sur­geons (RACS).

Lo­cal oph­thal­mol­o­gist Dr Ross Lit­tle­wood has been vis­it­ing Ti­mor-leste since 2007, when the coun­try had been rocked by civil un­rest.

Ti­mor-leste had suf­fered se­vere dam­age caused by the oc­cu­py­ing In­done­sian forces im­me­di­ately af­ter the coun­try voted for in­de­pen­dence from In­done­sia.

In 2006, Dr Lit­tle­wood’s planned visit was post­poned due to in­ter­nal con­flict, so on ar­rival in early 2007 he faced chal­leng­ing con­di­tions.

“There were many peo­ple dis­placed, there were a lot of refugees, some camped in the hospi­tal grounds,” he said.

“The hospi­tal fa­cil­i­ties were ex­tremely run-down, the drains didn’t work, the power didn’t work, very lit­tle equip­ment. When the In­done­sian forces left, they de­lib­er­ately sab­o­taged the equip­ment.”

Largely through do­na­tions from Aus­tralian doc­tors, the coun­try’s stock of med­i­cal equip­ment has been im­proved over the years.

Dr Lit­tle­wood, who works at the Perth Eye Hospi­tal and St John of God Hospi­tal in Mid­land, said Perth oph­thal­mol­o­gists had cov­ered a large part of the fund­ing for eye med­i­cal work in Ti­mor-leste.

“AUSAID have been us­ing the Royal Aus­tralasian Col­lege of Sur­geons to de­liver aid (and) we have now tran­si­tioned from go­ing up to help to also train­ing lo­cal peo­ple to be­come oph­thal­mol­o­gists.

“The Uni­ver­sity of Ti­mor­leste has been es­tab­lished – Aus­tralian oph­thal­mol­o­gists wrote a cur­ricu­lum and con­ducted ex­ams and we now have three grad­u­ates with diplo­mas in oph­thal­mol­ogy and we are train­ing four more,” he said.

Dr Lit­tle­wood is a longterm vol­un­teer of the East Ti­mor Eye Pro­gram, which was es­tab­lished in 2001 and is man­aged by the RACS.

Af­ter 24 years of mil­i­tary oc­cu­pa­tion by In­done­sia, Ti­mor-leste was left with only 20 doc­tors to ser­vice the en­tire coun­try and not one spe­cial­ist to un­der­take clin­i­cal work for a pop­u­la­tion of 700,000 peo­ple.

With on­go­ing sup­port and col­lab­o­ra­tion in the way of ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams, med­i­cal train­ing and fund­ing from the Min­istry of Health, Univer­si­dade Na­cional de Ti­mor Lorosa’e, Aus­tralian Aid, Cuba and RACS, the coun­try now has a 1000-strong med­i­cal work­force.

Dr Ross Lit­tle­wood has been vol­un­teer­ing in Ti­mor-leste since 2007.

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