He's hailed as a legend, working for many years in Honiara, before fleeing the country when ethnic conflict erupted in 1999.
Dr Szertu moved to the larger stage of The Pacific Eye Institute established in Fiji by the Fred Hollows Foundation New Zealand.
As well as performng many sight-saving operations himself, he's trained dozens of doctors and nurses from across the region to carry on his work.
Speaker:Dr John Szetu, outgoing director, Pacific Eye Institute, Fiji
SZETU: I have mixed feelings mainly I have feeling of relief, feeling of accomplishment that I have done something for the people of the Pacific and I'm quite happy to move on and make space for others who might come and continue the challenge that we currently face in the Pacific in terms of eye care and human resources.
EWART: When you look back at the scale of what you have achieved and obviously with others at the Pacific Eye Institute. I mean do you surprise yourself at the success that you've had over the years, and obviously, the many, many people who can now see as a result of your work and others working with you?
SZETU: Yeah, it's quite rewarding. because in the past, we were totally dependent on visiting teams coming in, flying in and fly out programs and we have survived on that. But that's not the answer. The answer is to train up the eye care workforce for the region, so that they could be able to do the job themselves, rather than depending too much on the external assistance. And we gone a long way to do that. So the answer is to have a regional institute in place so that we should be able to train the nurses and doctors in their home environment, so that they could be able to do the job just as well as or even better than the recent teams coming in.
And so it gives me a lot of satisfactions over the 8 years, we've graduated 128 graduate from certain different countries from the Pacific. But there's still a lot of work to do.
This gives a total of 27 eye doctors and with formal training and about less than 100, but we need almost 100 eye doctors and more than 300 eye nurses to cater for a population of a region of 9 million people. So there's still a lot of work to do, but at least we, I have a good feeling, because we are heading in the right direction, but there's more to do.
EWART: Of course, the latest cohort I understand graduates this evening, so that will increase the numbers by a little more. I suppose those that are graduating this evening, that they're the next wave and they will presumably go on to train others in their wake?
SZETU: Exactly, yes. So we hope that they will continue to put into practice what they have learned and the foundation and the industry will continue to support them. We have a strong workforce support program, whereby we continue to give support to these graduates and to see if they are functioning, if they are performing. If they are not performing, we knock on their doors, knock on the doors of the policymakers, the Ministry of Health, to ask them why is this, maybe there barriers, there are constraints, so we help them along to able to perform and to do what they're supposed to be do.
EWART: So as as the next wave of graduates comes through, and you, as it were, bid your farewell today. I mean what are you're immediate plans, taking a well earned rest or will it be hard to distant yourself so completely from this work that you've been involved with so long?
SZETU: Well, I thought, as my age progresses, I thought that the passion would go down, but as the age progresses, I think the passion is even more increasing. And but like I say there's a lot more work to do and the Fred Hollows Foundation New Zealand has plans to further engage me to do some more work maybe in the Solomons or from in the northern part of the Pacific. So I'm quite excited to continue to do this sort of work for the Foundation, for the people of the Pacific.