Buchanan Charitable Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Pushkar Silwal (middle) pictured with team members A/Prof Jacqueline Ramke (left) and Dr Braden Te Ao (right).

Pushkar Silwal, a member of the School of Optometry and Vision Science’s Community Eye Health team and the inaugural Buchanan Charitable Foundation’s Postdoctoral Fellow hopes that our transforming health system will better support eye care services that are accessible to everyone.

Although 1.1 billion people experience impaired vision globally, eye health is often overlooked as a public health concern. The ongoing health sector reforms that began in mid-2022 provide a unique opportunity for Pushkar and his colleagues to build on previous research findings and generate much-needed evidence on how eye care services can be more accessible and equitable in New Zealand.

In February 2023, Pushkar began a three-year postdoctoral fellowship funded by the Buchanan Charitable Foundation—a home-grown, philanthropic foundation that supports community development. During his Fellowship, Pushkar will undertake a series of research projects that will investigate how to strengthen our health system, with the goal of improving eye care services in Aotearoa. He will also engage with academics, programme managers, and policy makers to identify opportunities to promote the inclusion of eye health in health system monitoring.

“We hope this will allow us to translate the knowledge we generate into practice,” says Pushkar.

This work will follow on from Pushkar’s PhD research, where he examined whether the measures we use to monitor our health system are appropriate. During his Fellowship, Pushkar will maintain an honorary appointment within the School of Population Health and will be mentored by A/Prof Jacqueline (Jacqui) Ramke from the School of Optometry and Vision Science (SOVS) and Dr Braden Te Ao from SOPH.

“We are very excited to have Pushkar commence his fellowship with us and welcome his commitment to generate evidence to support equity-focused decision-making in eye health. We are very fortunate for this ongoing support from The Buchanan Charitable Foundation and thank them for their commitment to improve eye health for all New Zealanders”, says Jacqui.

To advocate for improved eye care, Pushkar will draw on a growing body of evidence that New Zealand eye care services are lacking. Last year, he co-authored a report titled “Eye care in Aotearoa New Zealand 2022” that found a range of areas where our eye care services could be strengthened. Commissioned by Eye Health Aotearoa and funded by Blind Low Vision New Zealand, the report systematically assessed our eye care services using an analysis tool developed by the World Health Organization. Importantly, the report provided a list of 81 recommended actions for policy makers to improve our eye care services.

“Our report shows that access to eye care services needs major strengthening,” he says.

Pushkar has a long-standing interest in health systems research. He completed his Master of Public Health in 2016 at The University of Auckland under the Manaaki New Zealand Scholarships Programme and has actively contributed to teaching public policy and health systems at The University of Auckland. This will continue during his fellowship when Pushkar, alongside Jacqui, will integrate a new public health teaching module within The University of Auckland’s Bachelor of Optometry programme. He hopes that this will help build eye health in Aotearoa from the ground up, so that future optometrists can advocate for and deliver accessible eye health services for everyone.