Turning aroundtimor’s health
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.