Subject: Tassie role in a new vision

Sunday Tasmanian

Tassie role in a new vision



CONTINUED support from Tasmanians could eliminate cataracts in East Timor within five years, Foreign Minister and former Nobel Peace laureate Jose Ramos Horta said yesterday.

He thanked Tasmanians for helping thousands of his countrymen regain their vision through the East Timor Eye Care Program.

Since the program began in 2000 it has helped with more than 2200 cataract operations, 20,000 eye examinations and 17,500 pairs of glasses.

Surgical teams visit East Timor three times a year to perform up to 180 operations a week and, with Tasmania's support, program leader and Hobart eye surgeon Dr Nitin Verma is set to procure lasers for use in treating more forms of curable blindness.

Dr Ramos Horta said that as islands, East Timor and Tasmania have a cultural and emotional affinity.

"We have had for a long time a lot of interest in Tasmania about developments in my country," he said.

"After the events in 1999 when Timor was freed but at the same time thoroughly destroyed -- including clinics, health centres and schools -- Tasmanians were among the first in Australia to come forward and help.

"The eye surgeons, led by Dr Verma and his colleagues, have performed an outstanding service to the community in East Timor.

"They have restored eyesight to thousands of people in the last few years. People thought they were blind, many had not been able to see for years and years. For them it was a miracle, suddenly they were able to see.

"We are very, very grateful for the tremendous support we have had over the years from the Tasmanian Government, politicians, academics, churches, unions, students and volunteers who have come to work [in East Timor]."

Dr Ramos Horta is in Hobart to open the four-day scientific congress of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists, which begins this morning. Guest speakers include Vision 2020 Australia director Janet Holmes a Court.

Dr Ramos-Horta will present a public lecture at the University of Tasmania tomorrow night on the current challenges facing East Timor.

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