Timor Leste

Ophthalmologist Dr Roger Dethlefs with the surgical services team.

Ophthalmologist Dr Roger Dethlefs with the surgical services team.

Since 2005, The Foundation's sister organisation, The Fred Hollows Foundation New Zealand, has worked closely with the government of Timor-Leste to provide vital eye health services for the nation’s one million inhabitants and to develop and implement a national eye health strategy.


Timor-Leste is one of the poorest countries in the world, with around half of the population living below the poverty line. Decades of civil unrest has damaged health infrastructure and led to an acute shortage of medical personnel, including appropriately trained eye health workers.

Approximately 13,500 people in the country are blind, 73 percent of them due to cataract. A further 40,000 people have poor vision that affects their daily lives.

The Fred Hollows Foundation New Zealand is addressing these problems by collaborating with government and local partners to develop a range of appropriate eye health services. The Foundation is working with the nation’s Ministry of Health to develop a new 5-Year National Eye Health Strategy, repair district eye clinics, provide eye care equipment and supplies, and provide in-service training and equipment to Ministery of Health eye care nurses and technicians who work in remote eye clinics.

The Foundation also completed the country’s second national eye health survey in 2010, which will help refine the planning and delivery of services in Timor-Leste over the next five years.

The Foundation’s long-term goal is to provide ongoing support to the government and its local partners, helping them to establish a comprehensive and sustainable national eye health program that address the major causes of blindness and low vision.

Achievements 2013

  • Performed 773 cataract operations and 259 other sight-saving or  improving interventions
  • Trained 44 nurses and clinic support staff and 121 community health workers
  • Screened 13,810 people
  • Distributed 6,077 pairs of spectacles.

We worked in partnership with The Fred Hollows Foundation New Zealand to achieve these results.

About the program

The upheaval that followed Timor-Leste’s referendum on independence in 1999 led to a complete collapse of the country’s health system.

Before the new eye centre opened, a temporary operating theatre was housed in a specially fitted out shipping container.Since regaining its independence in 2002, the nation has worked hard to restore and improve health services – but great challenges remain.

Working with limited resources, Timor-Leste’s Ministry of Health is attempting to reduce the burden of disease that afflicts the majority of the country’s inhabitants, while also building medical infrastructure for the future.

The eye health situation in Timor-Leste remains serious. Approximately 2,000 people are going blind from cataract each year, and specialised eye health services remain scarce.

Since early 2010, The Fred Hollows Foundation New Zealand and Ministry of Health eye care professionals carried out surgery in a temporary operating theatre housed in a shipping container.

Almost 1,000 people were treated at the temporary facility.

With such limited resources available for eye care in the country, The Foundation teamed up with other eye health organisations including the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, The Ministry of Health, and local non-government organisation Fo Naroman Timor-Leste (FNTL) to better coordinate eye care services in the country. 

The National Eye Centre

To this end, The Fred Hollows Foundation New Zealand and The Fred Hollows Foundation in Australia have constructed a permanent, purpose-built National Eye Care Facility in Dili. The centre houses the country’s first comprehensive eye care service, including a dedicated operating theatre and outpatients’ clinics as well as an optical workshop, a low vision clinic, a training centre and offices to manage clinical and other eye health services.

Trained doctors and nurses from the Timor-Leste Ministry of Health staff the facility, with the Timor-Leste government and AusAID providing medical equipment. The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ has an office located at the National Eye Centre and will manage the centre for the first two years. The National Eye Centre serves as a focal point for eye health in Timor-Leste, offering treatment to the country’s urban population as well as to patients referred from district hospitals and rural clinics. The facility’s surgical team conducts periodic outreach surgery at selected district hospitals to reach patients who cannot afford to travel to Dili. The centre also provides training and support for ophthalmic nurses and technicians in district hospitals.

The opening of the National Eye Centre is a significant step towards creating an effective and sustainable eye health program in Timor-Leste and provides a major resource to the nation's government to assist with the development of a comprehensive health infrastructure.

Facts and figures

Eye health
Prevalence of blindness >1%
Number of eye doctors 3
Number of eye doctors needed 12
Number of eye health nurses 12
Number of eye heath nurses required 247
General health General health
Population 1.2 million
Urban population 29%
Life expectancy 62.9 years
Infant mortality rate (per 1,000 births) 46
Population which is under-nourished 45%
Population living on $1.25 a day 37%
Adult literacy rate 58%
Number of doctors (per 10,000 people) 1

Source: UNDP Human Development Report 2013

What we can do

Help keep Fred’s dream alive.

4 out of 5 people who are blind in the developing world don't need to be. Routine treatment costing as little as $25 can restore sight and hope.